LONG BEACH - In a continuing sign of strain on workers and their families in Pacific County, initial claims for jobless benefits rose to 273 in March, compared to 192 in February. Still, this was much better than March 2008, when 452 claims were filed.

The story was the same for continuing unemployment claims, which came to 612 in March, up from 532 in February but down from 888 in March 2008. An additional 30 people ran out of jobless benefits last month, compared to 19 in February.

The official unemployment rate in the county in March was 14.3 percent, essentially unchanged from the 14.4 percent in February. The jobless percentage is based on a mathematical model and may not be particularly valid in small counties like ours. A year ago in March, it stood at 13.7 percent.

The statewide unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in March, a good improvement from the 10.4 percent estimate for February. Nationwide, the rate was 10 percent in March and February.

The county's overall number of jobs continues to drop in March, though not by much. It stood at 5,233 non-farm positions in March, down a blip from 5,242 in February. This is the smallest total in the county since sometime well before January 2000.

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