Sonoma County jobless rate falls to 6.5 percent

The unemployment rate in Sonoma County fell to 6.5 percent in April, reaching its lowest level in nearly five years, as hotels and wineries added staff for the summer season and employers filled positions that were eliminated during the recession.

The change from last April marked the largest year-over-year drop in the jobless rate since the economic downturn began in 2008. It was the 11th straight month that the total number of jobs in Sonoma County was higher than the prior year, according to data from the state Employment Development Department.

The jobless rate was down from a revised 7.3 percent in March, and was well below the year-ago estimate of 8.7 percent, the state reported Friday.

A decline in unemployment is typical this time of year, but it was a steeper drop than usual, said Linda Wong, North Bay labor market consultant for the EDD.

"Looking at the historic unemployment rates for Sonoma County, it appears that this is the lowest April unemployment rate since 2008, back during the downturn," Wong said. "It's interesting to see that it's back down to that level."

Compared to last year, there were 5,700 more jobs in the county in April. Local government added 1,400 jobs over the year, retail added 700 jobs and the construction sector added 500 positions.

"We're seeing this month after month," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. "It's a fairly broad-based recovery, and the sectors that were hardest hit are coming back."

Including the self-employed and domestic workers, there were 240,600 people working in April, while 16,800 were counted as unemployed. Local industries reported a work force of 178,300 people.

Employers around the county have been adding more entry-level positions, Stone said.

"That's another good sign," Stone said. "People may put off hiring, because they think a higher-level person can do both jobs, but now there may be more need for a lower-level person to come in."

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