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Jobless rate down in Galt — but still high

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Posted: Friday, December 23, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 5:59 am, Fri Dec 23, 2011.

Despite a rosy Sacramento County employment outlook painted by the state last week, Galt’s figures are still languishing. The 17.9 percent unemployment rate is among the highest in the area.

The only Sacramento County cities with comparable rates are Walnut Grove (26.7 percent) and Rio Linda (17.4 percent).

“Our unemployment rate has been over 20 percent for several years, so it is good to see it declining below 18 percent,” City Manager Jason Behrmann said Wednesday.

“Unemployment rates seem to be higher in many of the smaller rural communities in the Central Valley. Take a look at Walnut Grove, Lockeford ... you see the same thing,” he said.

Countywide, the current unemployment rate has had the largest drop in 2 1/2 years, and forecasters say the region is showing signs of finally joining the economic recovery.

Thanks to unusually strong holiday retail hiring, Sacramento County’s unemployment dropped half a percentage point in November, to 10.9 percent, according to figures released by the state Friday.

It was the first time that the county’s unemployment dipped below 11 percent since May 2009. A year ago, the rate was 12.8 percent.

Galt Joint Union Elementary School District supplies close to 500 of this city’s jobs and, like other California districts, it has suffered a record number of layoffs in recent years. Other major employers include the city and Building Material Distributors.

“We don’t have a lot of jobs here,” Mayor Barbara Payne said Wednesday. “A lot of people have to drive out of town to go to work.”

The city is hoping to boost its employment numbers with the construction of Walmart and subsequent employment of more than 300 people, according to Behrmann.

The project was approved last month, and the company will break ground in the new year.

The state has added 233,000 jobs in the past year, bringing California’s unemployment rate down from 12.5 percent.

“It’s possible we’ve seen the worst,” said Jeff Michael, an economist at the University of the Pacific.

Double-digit unemployment is still nothing to crow about, of course. Michael cautioned that the November numbers look robust only in comparison to the profound weakness that’s afflicted Sacramento County cities the past few years.

“It still reflects a very weak economy,” he said.

Much of the November job growth came in holiday retail hiring, which was considerably better than average. The latest local jobs report also showed surprising strength in construction, finance and manufacturing.

“Even a modest improvement in this sector is important,” Michael said. “It can go a long way toward healing the economy.”

In Galt, public projects such as the Central Galt Interchange have added jobs to the community, according to Behrmann.

The city will continue to add more jobs other large projects on the horizon including creating roundabout on Twin Cities Road and future commercial development, he said.

“I think that as the economy recovers, the unemployment rate in Galt will continue to come down. We continue to be very aggressive in pursuing economic development opportunities in Galt, and we are optimistic that we will continue to see more success in 2012 and beyond,” Behrmann said.

When compared to Galt, unemployment rates are lower in Lodi, arguably because there are more job opportunities. Lodi Unified School District, Blue Shield, General Mills and Lodi Memorial Hospital are among the largest employers.

In January, Lodi’s unemployment rate was 11.8, according to the figures released last week.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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