Sonoma County jobless rate drops to 6.0% in March
Sonoma County’s unemployment level declined in March for the second consecutive month as the pandemic eased and vaccination efforts picked up, signaling hope for strong summer hiring.
The local jobless rate was 6% last month, sliding from a revised 6.3% in February, the state Employment Development Department reported Friday.
The county added 600 jobs in March for an overall workforce of 226,600 people. That figure is still 19,400 fewer jobs than in March 2020, when unemployment was a mere 3.3%. That month a year ago is when the coronavirus emerged here and pretty quickly sent shockwaves through the labor market and local economy overall.
The apex of county joblessness was last April, when the rate soared to 15.4%. It continually decreased through the rest of 2020 until bumping up to 6.6% in December as viral transmission raged.
Robert Eyler, a Sonoma State University economic professor who closely tracks the local economy, said conditions are ripe for the jobless rate to fall further over the summer based on good state and national economic outlooks, and expectations more people are going to travel to the county for vacations.
“All the preconditions are lining up,” Eyler said, noting that he thinks the county’s unemployment level could decline to 5% by September as long as positive economic conditions continue.
One big area of concern is the local travel and hospitality industry, which is down 30% in payrolls in March at 17,000 workers, compared to the 24,400 a year ago. Businesses such as hotels and restaurants are likely to be cautious in ramping up hiring, fearing public health restrictions “could get yanked back at moment’s notice,” Eyler said.
Also, hospitality operators will be conservative with international travel and events like weddings not anticipated to return to prepandemic levels until 2022, the economist said.
Indeed, wedding planners remain unsure how busy the rest of the year will be, as they review new guidelines for private events issued by the state Department of Public Health on Wednesday, said Marshall Bauer, president of Milestone Event Group of Santa Rosa, which assisted with the planning of 200 weddings annually before the pandemic.
On Friday, Bauer was trying to learn more about who would be responsible for ensuring proof of a negative virus test or full vaccination by event participants, and if there is any associated legal liability for a venue or coordinator of an event.
Most couples who are looking toward 2022 so their nuptials can be celebrated with less restrictive health protocols, Bauer said, noting Milestone’s bookings are down about 60% compared to 2019.
As more workers are recalled, an area labor group wants to ensure hotel workers furloughed over the past year retain top priority to be rehired. Unite Here Local 2850 is pushing ordinances to Petaluma and Santa Rosa city councils for a so-called “right to recall” for first dibs on jobs at hotels with 50 or more rooms. The union represents workers at Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa and Sheraton Sonoma Wine Country Petaluma. Petaluma will debate its ordinance on Monday.
“This is a very specific set of workers we are trying to help who haven’t recovered from the pandemic at this point,” said Jack Buckhorn, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council.
Meanwhile, jobless rates also dropped regionally last month. Lake County’s unemployment decreased to 7.9% from February’s 8.3%, while Mendocino County declined to 7.1% from February’s 7.4% rate. Marin County recorded the lowest mark in the state at 4.8%.
California’s unemployment rate slid 0.2% to 8.3% in March, while the U.S. jobless reading was 6.0% last month.
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.