Jobless rate low, but it’s still rising

While the Peninsula has nourished a number of thriving industries that are now protecting it from the worst of the nation’s economic downturn, it hasn’t been completely immune to job losses.

Between January and June, San Mateo County’s unemployment rate rose from 4.1 percent to 4.8 percent, leaving 2,900 workers newly jobless, according to recent data from the California Employment Development Department.

Credit intermediaries — businesses that operate between borrowers and lenders — laid off 22 percent to 29.2 percent of their workforce between June 2007 and June 2008, according to the state agency.

The EDD also predicted that San Mateo and San Francisco counties could lose nearly 11,000 jobs in office and administrative-support jobs by 2014. Declines are also predicted among textile workers, clerks and farm employees.

News of layoffs in the lending business came as no surprise to Cynthia Kroll, a regional economist with the University of California at Berkeley.

“There’s been a large effect of the sub-prime [mortgage] crisis — there have been a lot less loan-writing activities,” Kroll said. 

While the loss of finance jobs can be pegged to a specific crisis — the sub-prime mortgage meltdown — cutbacks in office-support staff are a sign of a much more pervasive economic downturn, experts said.

“If the economy continues the way it is, [office-support staff] is an area businesses would cut, because they figure one person can do the job of two,” said Larry Buckmaster, president of the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce.

In San Mateo County especially, the high cost of housing — coupled with the low skills often expected with administrative assistants — could take those jobs elsewhere, according to Kroll.

“Certainly a lot of back-office jobs can be done somewhere else, or by a computer,” she said. “And if you’re looking at a place like San Mateo County, with very expensive housing, probably not a lot of [support staff] would live there unless their spouse is in a higher-paying industry.”

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