County jobless rate at two-year high

The San Mateo County work force may be earning the second wealthiest salaries in the state, but it is also combating an escalating unemployment rate now at its highest point since 2005.

Currently, 4.2 percent of workers in the county are unemployed, according to the California Employment Development Department. The rate, the highest number in 27 months, indicates that 16,100 are without jobs in a county that boasts 384,200 workers. In March 2007, there were 13,700 unemployed county residents.

March marked the ninth consecutive month during which the county’s unemployment rate rose compared to the previous year.

The slumping economy and several sagging job sectors in the county led to the rate’s uptick, experts said. The struggling sectors include financial services, trade, transportation and utilities, according to the state Employment Development Department, though jobs in the leisure and hospitality fields as well as health care continued to grow.

The report comes a week after the state released 2006 salary data reporting that the typical San Mateo County resident earns $48,117 annually, second in the state to Marin County.

The unemployment rate indicates that even the Peninsula is not immune to the state and nation’s economic woes, Bay Area Council Economic Institute President Sean Randolph said.

“[We] shouldn’t be surprised if we see the rates to continue to notch up into this year,” Randolph said.

Despite the recent jump in unemployed residents, the county remains ahead of nearby San Francisco (4.7 percent), Santa Clara (5.3 percent), Contra Costa (5.6 percent) and Alameda (5.4 percent) counties for unemployment numbers. It is also lower than the state (6.4 percent) and the nation (5.1 percent).

“It certainly looks like the country is headed to recession and that will affect the Bay Area,” said Cynthia Kroll, senior regional economist at UC Berkeley.

The growing unemployment rate also comes as average county salaries are lagging behind swelling housing costs.

Between 2004 and 2006, the most recent data available, salaries in the county jumped by 7.3 percent. By contrast, the average rent for one- and two-bedroom apartments soared 16.9 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively, during that time, according to the county Department of Housing. The median house and condo/town home cost also outpaced salary hikes, increasing 10.5 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

San Mateo County job force

384,200: Members of job force

16,100: Unemployed residents as of March

4.2 percent: Unemployment rate

November 2005: Last time unemployment rate was this high

Struggling sectors: Financial services, trade, transportation and utilities

Rising sectors: Tourism, health care

Sources: California Employment Development Department

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