Unemployment in Sonoma County fell to 8.3 percent in May, its lowest level since 2008, as growth in private sector hiring continued to offset the loss of government jobs, the state Employment Development Department said on Friday.
The county added 2,800 non-farm jobs between April and May, more than five times the number typically gained at this time of the year, EDD analyst Linda Wong said.
"That was much more than the prior 10-year average," Wong said. "Overall, the picture in the labor force, it's actually doing better than usual. That is good news."
The jobless rate, which was 8.7 percent in April, has now declined for two straight months and has dropped sharply from a year ago, when unemployment stood at 9.4 percent.
"To me, this is what recovery looks like," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. "It's a slow recovery, but we're considerably below where we were a year ago. We're doing better on all fronts."
Statewide, the unemployment rate in May was 10.4 percent for California and 7.9 percent for the nation.
Over the last year, Sonoma County has added about 1,100 non-farm jobs. The largest gains were in manufacturing, which added 1,200 jobs, and professional and business services, which added 1,000 jobs. But the local economy lost 1,100 government jobs over the past year, chipping away at those gains.
"Among the government cutbacks, the largest change was a major job loss in local schools," Wong said.
May's job gains, many in administrative services, resorts and hotels, were seen as a sign that the county is heading into a healthy summer tourism season, said Robert Eyler, who heads the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University. The manufacturing gains were in durable goods, a category that includes items like stents made by Medtronic, and non-durable goods, such as wine, he said.
"What is good, and was maybe a little bit surprising, was that we saw a pretty definite jump, year over year, with manufacturing," Eyler said. "I think it shows that we're getting core economic movement. My hope is that what happens in Europe doesn't negatively affect what happens here, and we'll have to see."
Jobs in wine bottling, cellar work, shipping, and events like weddings have also been ramping up, said Nicole Smartt, vice president and co-owner of Star Staffing, a Petaluma employment company. Many of the agency's temporary workers are being hired on full-time by clients.
"Right now what's really picking up is wineries, as they get ready for harvest," Smartt said. "On the hospitality side, there's been a huge increase over last year at this time, so we like that."
The number of unemployed job-seekers, which had been rising in early 2012, declined for the second straight month, to 21,700, the lowest since January 2009.
At the same time, total employment grew for the fourth consecutive month to 181,100, the highest since January 2009.
Sonoma County had the ninth-lowest unemployment rate in the state in May. Of the 10 California counties with the lowest unemployment rates, more than half were in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Marin County had the state's lowest unemployment rate at 6.3 percent. Napa was tied for the state's fifth-lowest rate with 7.5 percent unemployment.