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Unemployment rates fell sharply in August in all North Bay counties — a welcome, if incomplete, marker of recovery for local economies straining to pull out of the pandemic-induced recession.

In Sonoma County, the rate fell to 7.7 percent, down from 10 percent in July, according to preliminary data released last month by the state Employment Development Department. Even more notably, the August rate is down more than half since April, when the jobless numbers hit a peak of 14.5 percent.

In a larger context, though, the data show how precipitously the economy has fallen and how far it must climb to full recovery. Yes, in Sonoma County in August, 19,500 people were without jobs, compared to 25,200 in July. However, a year ago, 7,100 people were unemployed in the county, a jobless rate of 2.7 percent.

Likewise, while the unemployment rate is a useful indicator, it is not the only one and might not reveal other meaningful dynamics at play, said Robert Eyler, a professor of economics at Sonoma State University.

“I think that the biggest thing that people need to remember, the biggest caveat, is that we don’t know how many businesses will stay in business.”

Robert Eyler, economics professor

Other factors to consider that are not immediately apparent are whether the labor force has shrunk due to people retiring or moving to find housing or work. That could lower the unemployment rate without signaling other forces perhaps impacting the North Bay economies in less positive ways, Eyler said. Those forces could be, for example, that incomes have fallen, that fewer jobs are available, or that fewer people are in the job market.

In all four counties, the overall number of people in the civilian labor force continued to fall in August, according to the state’s data.

Also, said Eyler, there is the key question of how many businesses survive the debilitating effects of the recession and public health orders that have kept many shuttered for months.

“There’s no doubt about the fact that the recovery has started, but you’ve got to think one layer deeper,” he said. “I think that the biggest thing that people need to remember, the biggest caveat, is that we don’t know how many businesses will stay in business.”

The more businesses that fail, the fewer businesses there will be to hire people as the economy recovers further, and the fewer workers there will be to spend money locally, Eyler said.

In Napa County, August unemployment was 8.3 percent with 5,900 people out of work, compared to July unemployment of 10.6 percent and 7,700 people jobless.

In Marin County, the jobless rate dropped to 7 percent from 9 percent in July, while the number of people without work fell to 9,300 from 12,000.

And, in Solano County, the unemployment rate fell to 10.3 percent from 12.5 percent in July, and the number of jobless fell to 20,700 versus 25,400.