NORTH BAY -- Unemployment rates across the North Bay in December edged downward slightly or remained at essentially the same high levels as in November, and Marin County's jobless rate fell below 7 percent for the first time in nearly three years.
However, over the year, all six North Coast counties saw a significant decrease in unemployment rates, according to figures released this morning from the state Employment Development Department. With the exception of Marin, which continues to have the lowest rate in California, most counties were virtually unchanged from the month.Marin County
Marin, part of a three-county West Bay Region that includes San Francisco and San Mateo counties, had a 6.5 percent unemployment rate, down from November's 6.9 percent and below last year's rate of 7.8 percent.
The county's jobless rate last month slipped below the February 2009 rate of 6.9 percent. The rate had been above 7 percent since then.
State figures for industry-specific employment for Marin won't be available for 2011 for a couple of months. Yet the county has benefited from two key factors -- a healthy and growing professional services sector and the reemergence of Marin as a retail center, according to Robert Eyler, Ph.D., a professor of economics for Sonoma State University and a Frank Howard Allen Realtors research scholar. He recently resumed his role as interim head of the Marin Economic Forum.
Companies such as BioMarin Pharmaceutical, Autodesk, Lucasfilm and The Buck Institute on Age Research have all seen recent growth, and the county's labor force has benefited, Dr. Eyler said.
On the retail front, the recovery is taking hold in other Bay Area counties, so it's not particularly surprising that Marin would follow that trend, he said.
Another factor to consider for the growth in Marin is whether employers are lessening their reliance on contract workers -- known as 1099 employees -- and moving back toward traditional, full-time payroll jobs. Dr. Eyler said early research points to this trend, but more will be known when tax season is over in mid-April.
"When we see payroll rising, that's a good trend," Dr. Eyler said.
Such a trend indicates Marin is experiencing a more traditional rebound, he added.Sonoma County
That's not exactly the case in neighboring Sonoma County, Dr. Eyler said. The preliminary unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in December, and like Marin's rate, it's the lowest level in about three years. The unemployment rate was a revised 9 percent in November and below last year's estimate of 10 percent. There were 2,800 fewer industry jobs in the county than a year earlier, despite the top year-over-year job gain of 500 in construction.
While the unemployment rate has held steady throughout 2011, the county's workforce shrank by 1.3 percent over the year to 250,700 last month. A couple of factors could be at play, Dr. Eyler said.
"One possible explanation for that is retirement," he said. "Loss of employment was big in the government sector, so you're losing that from the labor force. Other organizations are not replacing them yet, but there's been slow movement toward construction."
Unlike Marin, Sonoma County may still have a sizable temporary workforce of 1099 employees, which would indicate that Sonoma County is recovering more slowly than its southern neighbor, according to Dr. Eyler.
"The other possibility is that we are seeing a conversion to contract work in Sonoma," he said. "It's much more of a classic recovery in Marin with payroll. It doesn't mean people aren't working (in Sonoma County), but it's difficult to track."