Marin County’s unemployment rate remained the lowest in the state in January but still has a ways to go before the job market recovers to pre-COVID levels, according to state labor data released on Friday.

Marin’s January unemployment rate of 5.4% was a slight improvement from the December rate of 5.6% but was still more than double the rate from a year earlier of 2.5% in January 2020.

“So still quite a bit down,” said Jorge Villalobos, research data specialist with the California Employment Development Department. “All sectors are down 12,300 jobs year-over.”

January was the third month in a row that Marin ranked first for lowest unemployment statewide. The statewide unemployment rate was 9.2% and the U.S. unemployment rate was 6.3% in January.

Marin County is normally among the top three counties in the state with the lowest unemployment because of its more affluent economy. The unemployment rate is based on Marin residents only. Higher-wage workers are able to afford to live in the county while lower-wage workers often must commute from outside the county because of the high cost of living.

Marin Economic Forum chief economist Robert Eyler said Marin could start seeing the more positive outcomes from recent business reopenings, the latest federal stimulus dollars and the vaccination rollout in April and May. Assuming coronavirus variants don’t cause a sharp rise in infections and no further shutdowns take place, Marin could potentially see full recovery by mid-2022, he said.

“It’s had more things open,” Eyler said, “and it’s also, generally speaking, a more affluent economy so the amount of people that have lost their jobs for a long period of time or potentially don’t have wealth to fall back on with respect to their economic lives is smaller than other places around California.

“If you add all that up and a reopening of people’s lives, businesses and generally speaking their spending habits, Marin County should definitely feel all the good positive effects of that happening as fast or slightly faster than any of its neighboring counties in the North Bay or the Bay Area,” Eyler said.

The January unemployment data was collected on Jan. 12 when all of California was under a regional stay-at-home order in response to a holiday surge in coronavirus cases. Marin has gradually reopened businesses since late January when the order was lifted. The county forecasts it could move into the state’s orange tier, the third most restrictive tier in the state’s economic recovery plan, as soon as March 23.

Marin’s labor force was still down by 12,300 jobs in January compared to the same month a year ago. Similar to most of the state, the majority of these jobs were in leisure and hospitality, retail and businesses such as hair salons and nail salons, Villalobos said.

Marin and other counties typically experience job losses between December and January in certain sectors such as retail and in leisure and hospitality following the holidays. However, these losses weren’t as severe compared to normal years, which Villalobos said was likely caused by businesses not hiring as many employees as they typically would.

The state plans to release February unemployment data on March 26.

Unemployment data

Unemployment rates for Marin County in January 2021:

Marin County: 5.4%
Statewide: 9.2%
U.S.: 6.3%

Corte Madera: 7.9%
Fairfax: 4.5%
Inverness: 8%
Larkspur: 3.8%
Mill Valley: 3.4%
Novato: 5.9%
Point Reyes Station: 0.0%
San Anselmo: 6.6%
San Rafael: 5.4%
Sausalito: 4.2%
Tamalpais Homestead Valley: 4.6%
Tomales: 0%

Source: California Employment Development Department