Sonoma County jobless rate rises to 9.5%

Sonoma County unemployment rose slightly in March as job seekers jumped back into the labor pool, employment analysts said Friday.

"More people are looking for jobs, but they might not be finding them right away," said Linda Wong, a state labor market consultant.

The county's jobless rate in March was 9.5 percent, up from a revised 9.3 percent in February. Unemployment stood at 10.2 percent a year ago.

About 5,600 people have joined the county's labor force since January, but the number of those unemployed also is on the rise.

About 24,600 people were looking for work, compared to 23,700 in January.

"We are definitely seeing an increase in people re-entering the workforce who have been discouraged," said Karen Fies, who oversees the county's Job Link program in Santa Rosa. "With unemployment insurance running out, they are finding the need to come back and re-engage."

But hiring is still sluggish, especially for the long-term unemployed, she said. Job Link, which offers training and job-search assistance, is starting workshops and support groups for those out of work the longest.

"It's about looking for work and being supported as you do that," Fies said.

The county economy has lost about 700 jobs over the past year, with public employment taking the biggest hit. There were 3,400 fewer government jobs last month as local school districts and county departments tightened their belts.

Government employees are retiring and those job vacancies aren't being filled, said Robert Eyler, who heads the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University. "That's a big driver," he said.

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