Unemployment figures for the North Coast over the past few months show an encouraging trend - relatively speaking.

The hemorrhage of jobs has slowed over the past six months - long enough for regional economist Erik Knoder to suggest that perhaps the local economy has bottomed out.

In August 2009, Clatsop County was down 1,180 jobs from August 2008. So far, that appears to have been the nadir.

"Since then, the gap has been getting pretty steadily smaller," Knoder said. "The losses were slowing, slowing, slowing."

Then, in?January, the county actually registered a small gain in employment - 150 jobs - over January 2009.

"January 2009 was pretty horrible - we'd lost a lot of jobs,"?said Knoder. "But we've been narrowing this gap, and we finally got a little over-the-year growth."

The gains didn't continue in February, however. Last month, the county unemployment rate was 8.5 percent, according to Oregon Employment Department. It was down from 8.9 percent in January, but still a smidge higher than 8.4 percent in February 2009, down by about about 100 jobs.

The statewide rate was quite a bit higher at 10.5 percent, and the national rate was 9.7 percent.

"The recovery starts when things are as bad as they get, and then you can begin to get back to where you were before," Knoder said. "The question is:?Are we at the bottom?"

Knoder said the recovery can last longer than the recession, as it did in the early 1980s.

"If you say the recession is over, that doesn't mean everything is great,"?he said. "It just means you've stopped digging."

In Tillamook County, the trend of decreasing job losses is even more distinctive.

In February, Tillamook County's unemployment rate was 8.2 percent - down from 9.7 percent the year before.

"They've actually made some progress in dropping below where they were last year,"?Knoder said. "We're seeing some signs that this is probably the bottom, barring any kind of double-dip recession. We won't know for another year."

In Columbia County, February's unemployment rate was 11.3 percent, a significant decrease from 12 percent in January and down from 12 percent the year before.

In Clatsop County, a gain of 140 jobs is normal for the month of February, but last month the county lost 220. The private sector lost 390 jobs, with a loss of 460 jobs in manufacturing. Governments added 170 jobs, mostly in education.

A lot of industries are still down from last year, including logging, mining and construction. Last month, the private sector in Clatsop County was down 250 jobs from February 2009 while governments were up 150 jobs.

The total non-farm employment figure - 16,210 for Clatsop County - is what Knoder points to as a reality check. In 2007, that number was up above 18,000.

"This is the lowest we've had since March 2006," he said. "We've wiped out almost four years of job growth. It would be really great if this is the bottom and it gets better from here. But we've got a long way to go back up to 18,000-plus jobs."