Santa Cruz County unemployment at 13.6 percent despite the addition of 1,300 jobs

JONDI GUMZSanta Cruz Sentinel:   03/23/2012

SANTA CRUZ — Another 1,300 jobs were added in Santa Cruz County in February, but the labor force grew as well, putting unemployment at 13.6 percent compared to 13.5 percent in January, according to figures posted Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

Unemployment is higher, 15.3 percent, in Monterey County, and lower, 8.8 percent in Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley tech companies.

Santa Clara County is ahead of California, which has a jobless rate of 11.4 percent and nearly matches the nation at 8.7 percent.

Locally the jobs picture is improved from a year ago, when unemployment was 14.8 percent, and two years ago, when it was 15.5 percent.

Santa Cruz County reported 92,300 jobs in February, up 1,300 from January.

All of the increase came in nonfarm jobs, with 500 in private education and health services, 200 in business and professional services and 200 in retail and wholesale trade.

Construction, devastated by the collapse of the real estate market, increased from 2,600 to 2,700. Since the numbers are rounded up to the next 100, the increase could be smaller but even so it’s the first gain since March 2011.

The industry was consistently at 2,800 jobs from April to November of 2011, dropping back to 2,700 in December and 2,600 in January.

The last time this sector saw more than 3,000 jobs was in October 2010.

“Looking at month over, all but the farm jobs are either zero or positive,” said state labor analyst Jorge Villalobos.

All of the numbers were similar to 10-year averages, except in private education and health services, which added 200 more jobs than usual.

Compared to a year ago, Santa Cruz County has added 3,100 jobs, up 3.5 percent.

The leisure and hospitality sector is much healthier compared to a year ago, adding 1,300 jobs including 800 in food service and drinking places. The rebound is smaller in Monterey County, which has a strong tourism component but over the year added only 600 leisure and hospitality jobs including 300 in food and drinking places.

Other gains were in professional and business services, private education and health services, retail and manufacturing.

The reason unemployment inched upward despite an increase in people working in Santa Cruz County and commuting elsewhere is the size of the labor force.

The February labor force was reported as 151,200, up from 149,100 in January. Villalobos said one possibility is that previously discouraged workers when surveyed said they are looking for work and thus are counted in the labor force.