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Sonoma County sees seasonal rise in jobless rate


Sonoma County’s jobless rate saw a seasonal rise in July, climbing to 5.8 percent as school employees went on summer recess.

The unemployment rate rose from 5.3 percent in June but remained below the July 2013 rate of 7 percent.

Employment at state and local education agencies declined last month by 3,000 workers, according to the state Employment Development Department. The number of private education jobs also fell by 500.

Such a decline is part of a seasonal trend seen around the North Bay and the state.

“We typically see unemployment increase at this time of year as schools scale back for the summer,” said Linda Wong, the department’s North Bay labor consultant.

During the last recession, unemployment peaked in the county at 11.2 percent in the winter of 2010. The jobless rate slowly fell for the next two years, but since August 2013 has remained below 7 percent.

The county is close to full employment as defined by economists, said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

“We’ve come a long ways and now we’re more or less down to a steady state,” Stone said.

Total employment for the county in July was set preliminarily at 192,700, an increase of 3,100 jobs from a year earlier. That was the smallest monthly increase since May 2012.

However, Stone said the increase remained noteworthy given how many jobs the county has added in the last few years. And he said that companies in the wine, tourism and construction industries tell him they are still hiring.

“It’s a great time to be looking for work,” he said.

Construction and nondurable manufacturing, including food and beverage production, were among the few sectors where jobs increased in July from June. Both areas grew by 200 jobs.

“There are signs of life out there,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer at the North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group.

While the level of construction activity remains much lower than a decade ago, Woods said, “more companies are seeking employees than I’ve seen in the last five years.”

To help businesses find good workers, he said, the builders exchange has started running the names of recent high school graduates who come highly rated by their teachers in career technical education programs, formerly known as vocational education.

In public education, school districts today still aren’t receiving as much money per student as in 2008, said county schools Superintendent Steven Herrington. But those districts that suffered layoffs a few years ago typically have been able to rehire some employees.

For this academic year, county school districts have hired about 180 beginning teachers, said Karen Ricketts, director of the region’s program for new instructors.

And the outlook for prospective teachers remains healthy. A key reason, Herrington said, is that one in 10 public school teachers today is age 55 or older, making them eligible for retirement.

“The Boomers are going out and the Millennials are coming in,” Herrington said.

Sonoma County remained ranked sixth among California counties with the lowest employment rates. Marin County ranked first at 4.4 percent. Napa was fourth at 5.1 percent. Mendocino County ranked 14th at 6.6 percent and Lake, 40th at 9.7 percent.

The July unemployment rate for California and the nation were 7.4 and 6.2 percent, respectively.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit