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Sonoma County's jobless rate inched up to 10.3 percent in July, as recent college graduates struggled to find work, state labor analysts said Friday.

Unemployment has now been in double digits for all but four of the last 26 months. In June, it was 10.1 percent.

Although job growth has slowed, the local economy is still stronger than it was a year ago, when 10.7 percent of the labor force was out of work. Sonoma County has gained 1,000 non-farm jobs over the past year, according to the state Employment Development Department.

The jobless rate normally rises in mid-summer as schools are closed. Non-contract teachers are counted as unemployed unless they have temporary jobs, said Linda Wong, a labor market consultant for the state.

College graduates were testing the labor market last month, Wong said. "They might not find a job right away," she said.

The best job prospects for new college grads are in fields such as engineering and health care, said Ben Stone, who heads Sonoma County's Economic Development Board. It's important for grads to gain work experience, even if it's outside their fields of study, he said.

"You're more likely to get hired if you can show you can get things done," Stone said.

Sonoma County's job market has improved since 2010, with year-over-year job growth for eight consecutive months, Wong said. The strongest gains were in construction, hospitality, business and professional services, health care and manufacturing.

Manufacturing gained 300 jobs between June and July while construction added 400 jobs during the month, better than the 21-year average, Wong said.

"That was one of the bright spots," she said.

Half of the county's employment sectors have added jobs in the past year. Government was the biggest loser, down 700 positions from July 2010. Finance, retail and agriculture also shed jobs.

About 26,100 county residents were looking for work last month, down 1,000 from a year ago.

Sonoma County's economy is in better shape than most of California, with the state's seventh-lowest jobless rate.

Statewide, unemployment rose to 12 percent in July, compared to 11.8 percent in June. It was 12.4 percent a year ago. Job gains in the private sector were offset by a drop in government employment, where 33,000 jobs have disappeared in the past year.

California has the second-highest jobless rate in the U.S., behind Nevada at 12.9 percent. The national rate dropped slightly to 9.1 percent in July.

Unemployment rose in more than half the states last month, a sign the economy is struggling to create jobs.

About 566,380 California residents were getting unemployment insurance benefits last month, up 7 percent from June. In July, the state began issuing debit cards instead of checks to benefit recipients. They'll be notified by mail during the week they get the new cards, according to the employment department.

As of Monday, nearly 500,000 California residents have exhausted all benefits, up to the 99-week maximum.

Marin County had the state's lowest unemployment in July, at 8.1 percent. The rate was unchanged from June.

Napa County reported 9.2 percent unemployment last month, also unchanged from June.

Mendocino County had 11.3 percent unemployment in July, up from 10.9 percent for the prior month.

Lake County's jobless rate was 17.5 percent, up from 17.3 percent in June.