California's Economic Recovery Has Been a Tale of Two States

Categories: Recession Watch

Thumbnail image for great_depression.jpg
Tough times continue.
When President Obama was elected in November 2008, the national unemployment rate was at 6.5 percent, and quickly rising. The Great Recession was picking up speed. By the inauguration, the unemployment rate had reached 8.5 percent. It eventually peaked a year later, in January 2010, at 10.6 percent. And it's been a slow trudge back ever since.

San Francisco, of course, weathered the maelstrom better than most cities. The city didn't fall as far, and has been climbing back up more quickly-- from housing market to job growth.

The most recent labor data show that the upward trend continues for the Bay Area, particularly from San Mateo up through Marin. But while SF has helped solidify the economies of its neighbors, the region's success has only underscored California's economic stratification.

San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties were the only ones in the state with an unemployment rate below 6.5 percent in February (not seasonally adjusted), according to preliminary data released by the state's Employment Development Department. Meanwhile, 34 of the state's 58 counties had a rate above 10.6 percent.

The economy is certainly improving all around. In February 2012, the country had a (not seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate of 8.7 percent (8.3 if seasonally adjusted, which is how it's usually presented). This year, it was at 8.1 percent (7.7 adjusted). The improvement has been more dramatic in California: from 11.3 percent to 9.7.

Of the 22 counties below that state average, eight are in the Bay Area. In fact, seven of the 10 lowest unemployment rates are Bay Area counties, including four of the lowest five.

Marin County had the lowest rate in the state for February, at 5.4 percent (which is still higher than the national average when Bill Clinton left the Oval Office). San Mateo County was second, at 5.9 percent, followed by SF, at 6.3, Orange County, at 6.5, and Napa County, at 7.0.

But there is a deep drop off from there. More than three-quarters of California's counties had unemployment rates worse than the national average. Fourteen counties had rates above 15 percent, and two of those-- Colusa and Imperial-- were at Great Depression-era marks above 24 percent.

So there is a recovery going on, a climb back to level ground. But for some folks not far from here, the light at the top of the hole they're digging out of looks like a star on a cloudy night.

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So what is SF's rate?  8.1 or 6.3?

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