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Sonoma County unemployment drops to 4.1 percent

Unemployment dropped to 4.1 percent in Sonoma County in February, down from 4.3 percent in January and 5.0 percent a year ago, the state reported Friday.

Falling unemployment has led to rising wages in Sonoma County, the county Economic Development Board noted. Newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that weekly wages in Sonoma County grew 4.7 percent in the third quarter of 2015 compared to a year earlier, which ranks in the top 10 percent of counties nationwide.

“We came out of the recession with more of a premium overlay. Those jobs require that you have to be able to pay more,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the board.

Stone cited the county’s wine, craft beer and tourism industries as sectors that attract consumers who are willing to pay more for such products and services.

For instance, tourists that visit here are more prone to stay at pricier places such as the Hotel Healdsburg rather than the budget Motel 6, Stone said. Workers at those jobs are paid more, especially in an environment of low unemployment. Vineyard managers have reported paying more for workers as well, given a sharp demand for year-round workers. Those workers’ base pay can be $12 to $13 per hour during times outside of harvest. In January, the state’s minimum wage went to $10 an hour.

The average weekly wage in Sonoma County was $935 in the third quarter of 2015, said Brian Marland, research project coordinator for the board. That would be $48,620 annually.

On job growth, local employers added 2,200 positions between January and February, the state Employment Development Department reported. Hiring occurred across most sectors, including construction, manufacturing, tourism, health care, schools and agriculture.

Retailers shed 300 jobs between January and February, one of the few sectors to contract.

The county again posted the sixth-lowest jobless rate in California, behind only San Mateo, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Orange counties. Five of the six counties are clustered in the Bay Area, where a growing economy has created one of the tightest labor markets in the country.

Statewide, unemployment fell to 5.5 percent in February. The U.S. jobless rate was unchanged in February at 4.9 percent.

Over the past year, local employers have created 6,100 new jobs in Sonoma County, boosting wage and salary employment to 204,000.

In Mendocino County, unemployment dropped to 5.9 percent in February, down from 6.3 percent in January and 6.9 percent a year ago. The county has added 390 jobs over the past year, boosting wage and salary employment to 31,500.

In Lake County, unemployment dropped to 7.4 percent in February, down from 7.8 percent in January and 8.7 percent a year ago. The county has added 280 jobs over the past year, boosting wage and salary employment to 15,790.

In Napa County, unemployment dropped to 4.5 percent in February, down from 4.8 percent in January and 5.2 percent a year ago.

The county has added 2,800 jobs over the past year, boosting wage and salary employment to 75,700.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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