S.F. Unemployment Numbers Drop -- But This Isn't Necessarily a Great Thing

'I dunno, Paw. That sure don't sound like good news to me.'
A quick glance at this month's unemployment numbers for San Francisco and its neighboring counties reminds us of how deftly numbers can be tortured.

So, while the unemployment rate in San Francisco dropped between November and December from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent, this wasn't necessarily because more people were working. It seems that it's because fewer people were looking for work. To its credit, the state's Employment Development Department, which publishes these monthly tallies, was quite open about this. It took pains to note that, while the unemployment rate in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties dropped from 9.2 to 8.9 percent between November and December, the number of jobs posted in the region also dropped -- by 5,700.

In San Francisco and its neighboring counties, "The labor force did decline significantly between November and December," affirmed Ruth Kavanagh, a labor market consultant with the EDD. "People are going back to school or temporarily deciding they don't want to work right now. Or they're moving out of the area. That's happened statewide as well."

Well, that's hardly reassuring. Oh, by the way -- it's raining, too! Here's some more statistics:
  • The city's unemployment rate in December of 2008: 6.5 percent;
  • Government jobs in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties contracted by 3,100 last month -- breaking a 19-year trend of stasis between November and December. The hefty majority of those job losses came at the local level among county workers and public school employees;
  • Retail jobs in the three counties swelled by 1,400 -- good news. That's under half the number reported during the holiday season over prior 19-year stretch -- bad news;
  • Between December of 2008 and '09, the three counties shed 46,100 jobs -- a 4.6 percent decline.
If there's a silver lining to be sought, San Francisco's unemployment rate of 9.4 percent is its lowest since May of last year, when it stood at 9.3 percent -- and is markedly lower than August's 10.2 percent tally. When we asked Kavanagh if this was good news, she said that the EDD prefers to not use descriptive adjectives. Make of that what you will.

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