Logging the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2 percent in April, San Mateo County’s April job performance — and especially minor growth in the tech sector — sparked some optimism among local experts.
Following March job losses, the state unemployment rate reached a new low at 4.2 percent in April, and the unemployment rates for Marin and San Francisco counties also fell from 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively, in March, to 2.1 percent in April, according to data released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. An increase of 39,300 non-farm payroll jobs in the state last month contributed to a 2.1 percent increase in the number of jobs across the state between April 2017 and April 2018, according to the EDD.
With an estimated 7.2 percent annualized growth last month, the county’s tech sector may be on a minor rebound after a six-month decline, said economist Jon Haveman of Marin Economic Consulting.
“I think we may be settling into steady growth at a relatively low level,” he said.
Combined with less available venture capital funding over the past year, Bay Area technology companies have struggled in recent months as surges in hiring and slow realization of revenue have caught up with them, explained Haveman. But he said April’s numbers, which also show 12.2 percent annualized growth in the financial and real estate sector and nearly 3 percent growth in the information sector, may be a sign the tech sector and other industries tied to its growth could be making a comeback.
For Rosanne Foust, president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, the county’s low unemployment rate sparked questions about how employers could reach the estimated 9,000 of the county’s nearly 450,000-person labor force who aren’t employed.
“I think the big question is who are the unemployed, what type of skills sets do they have and what do they potentially need?” she said.
Foust said county employers across a wide spectrum of industries are posting job openings that aren’t being filled, spurring those looking for new talent to be more creative in offering internships and other on-the-job training opportunities and organizations working with job seekers to focus on technical skill training.
With thousands of workers commuting into and out of the county daily to get to their jobs, employers have been recognizing the region’s housing shortage and increasing traffic congestion will limit its growth, said Foust. By investing in transportation infrastructure and wage increases that exceed typical cost of living adjustments, Foust said employers are hoping to lessen the blow of those issues for county workers.
Even with the tech’s recent turnaround, Haveman said the growth is likely to affect different parts of the Bay Area in a variety of ways, noting the tech sector has shown strength in the San Jose metropolitan area where larger, more established companies like Google and Apple are clustered. Because the San Francisco metropolitan area is home to startups and medium-sized companies in addition to larger businesses, it may be more susceptible to shifts like availability of venture capital, explained Haveman.
“There’s a lot of variability around the Bay Area,” he said. “It’s really hard to sort of talk about the Bay Area employment situation as though it’s one big unit.”
Haveman noted an unexpected decline in health care and social assistance jobs, which have remained steady throughout the recession but have oscillated in recent months. He added declines in arts and entertainment as well as retail sales jobs may be tied to slowing tech sector growth in the previous months.
In the midst of so many predictions of an economic downturn, Foust acknowledged the county’s April jobs performance statistics were encouraging. But she said the numbers aren’t hiding the housing and transportation issues looming over the county, noting efforts on the part of employers to boost the region’s housing stock, ease transportation throughout the county and train potential employees are signs they are looking at the county’s labor force with a wider lens.
“I think what you see happening is corporations have always been interested in workforce, the training, the education pieces [and] the things that will definitely affect who and how they will hire,” she said. “Now they are looking at the societal issues.”
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