Employment increases but gaps in jobs remain 

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After a five-year dip, the number of employed San Mateo County residents has returned to 2008 levels, though the benefits for workers may not be as clear-cut.

Nearly 380,000 county residents had jobs in 2012, according to data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. That is an increase of about 9,000 jobs from 2008.

The largest job gains came in two areas. About 4,000 residents landed jobs in “information” industries — a federal classification that broadly includes software publishing, newspapers and Internet companies. About 4,000 residents were employed in service jobs in businesses such as car washes, nail salons, dry cleaners and auto repair.

While the gains in employment are up from a few years ago, the numbers are just now recovering from a plunge between 2008 and 2009, when the number of residents employed plummeted by about 10,000.

“San Mateo County followed that basic statewide and national trend,” said Ruth Kavanagh of the California Employment Development Department. According to EDD data, the dip stretches much further — with employment levels only now close to what they were in 2001.

The encouraging numbers have not provided equal benefits for all residents, according to those who work in various industries.

“It’s true that the unemployment rate is very low,” said Rayna Lehman of the San Mateo Labor Council. “It’s deceptive in a way, because there are thousands of low-wage workers in the county, many of them working more than one job.”

Lehman also noted that countywide numbers don’t account for the pockets of double-digit unemployment in areas such as North Fair Oaks, East Palo Alto, Daly City and South San Francisco.

Unemployment in some industries is also high, reaching 25 percent to 30 percent in construction, Lehman said.

As many county industries gained jobs, one showed a decline: agriculture. That industry had a roughly 50 percent drop, according to census data. Bill Gass, of the county’s Farm Bureau, said that such a dramatic drop in agriculture employment was hard to believe.

“There is gradual decline over time,” Gass said. “But it hasn’t been lopped in half.”

Gass estimated that the workforce shrinks by about 5 percent a year. The job decline isn’t because farmers aren’t making money — the real trouble is that they’re having difficulty hiring enough seasonal workers. Locally born people don’t want to work on farms, Gass said. That combined with federal immigration policy shifts has made it more difficult for farmers to hire legal migrant workers from Mexico.

Gass said some migrants who have lived in the county for a while are moving inland, taking jobs at hotels, restaurants and construction jobs.

And while employment gains are encouraging, there are still people struggling.

“I think the county is on an upswing in some ways, but we still have a lot of folks who can’t make ends meet,” Lehman said. “Just look at the numbers of people applying for food stamps.”


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