The unemployment rate in Kern County was 13.6 percent last month, down from 14.2 percent in January and well below the 15.1 percent rate in February of last year, according to the California Department of Employment Development.

It's more typical for unemployment to be flat or even rise a little from January to February as retailers let go of the last of their holiday season hires, so last month's dip -- although modest -- is a good sign.

The county's February rate was still higher than the 9.7 percent jobless rate statewide (not seasonally adjusted); and the 8.1 percent out of work nationwide.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for California was 9.6 percent.

Kern County had the 40th lowest unemployment rate of the state's 58 counties. Marin County led the state with 5.4 percent unemployment. Colusa County's 25.9 percent unemployment was California's highest.

Kern County grew 6,600 jobs over the past year, including 1,300 positions in agriculture.

The region lost 400 overall jobs between January and February, but that was due exclusively to shedding seasonal farm work. Factoring in just nonfarm jobs, the county added 2,100 jobs last month.

Kern County saw year-over-year gains in all but three sectors in February. Leisure and hospitality has lost 400 jobs over the past year. Government shrank by 300 jobs and professional and business services lost 100 jobs.

The most annual growth was in trade, transportation and utilities, which swelled by 2,600 jobs. Construction and mining/logging, which includes the region's critical oil industry, tied for second, adding 600 jobs each.

The Employment Development Department derives city unemployment rates by multiplying current estimates of county employment and unemployment by the shares of each city at the time of the 2000 Census.

Within Kern County, city rates for February were:

* Arvin, 34.7 percent.

* Bakersfield, 9.5 percent.

* California City, 10.7 percent.

* Delano, 33.5 percent.

* Maricopa, 14.3 percent.

* McFarland, 27.7 percent.

* Ridgecrest, 7.8 percent.

* Shafter, 23.8 percent.

* Taft, 13.3 percent.

* Tehachapi, 8.6 percent.

* Wasco, 24.8 percent.