San Mateo County’s unemployment rate remained higher in October than it was the same time last year, but the area still saw some job growth, particularly within the private education and health care sectors.
The unemployment rate in San Mateo County remained at 3.2% last month, higher than the average rate throughout the first half of the year and higher than the 2.2% rate in October 2022.
The figures, however, do not take into account non-payroll jobs that still affect the economy and overall labor force, especially coming out of the pandemic, Rosanne Foust, president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, said.
“In the fall of ’22, we were coming out of COVID, so to speak, and I think people didn’t want to go back to their nine to five … and had found other ways to actually fulfill themselves with either starting their own consulting, or freelancing,” she said. “You have to think about who is entering the workforce who maybe took a period off who now says, ‘I like the gig work.’”
San Mateo County also tends to have some of the lowest unemployment rates compared to neighboring counties, such as Santa Clara and San Francisco, as well as in relation to the entire state. The statewide unemployment rate during October was 4.8%, with Alameda and Santa Clara counties showing rates of 4.4% and 3.8%, respectively, according to a recent report by the state Employment Development Department.
“I think our diversification of industry in the county protects us and keeps our unemployment at lower levels than surrounding counties,” Foust said. “We don’t have one heavy sector. People might think it’s tech, but if you think about it, we have educational institutions, and we have a tremendous health care and biotechnology field.”
San Mateo County’s stronghold on the life science sector has not only buoyed itself from the withstanding impacts of technology firm layoffs, but it also brings a wide array of job functions. In fact, about 80% of jobs in the biotechnology space are nonscientific, Foust said.
While some employment trends were specific to San Francisco and San Mateo counties, others mirrored statewide trends. Growth in the private education and health care sectors accounted for most of the labor growth regionally and throughout California. But interestingly, employment within state government education saw a 6.7% decrease from last October.
Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said the change could be attributable to a number of factors. Public school enrollment has been on a general decline in K-12 schools over the last few years in the Bay Area, and pandemic recovery is slower for public education institutions than for private schools, the latter of which can be much more nimble in spending and growth.
“Cuts were made to [education jobs] in 2020 during the pandemic that were more administrative in nature. I imagine that those types of jobs are slow to come back … tightening is more severe on the public side,” he said.
The real estate sector also realized employment gains since October of last year, despite a general downward trend in active listings on the residential market and higher commercial office vacancies in the Bay Area.
Other industries that realized the largest losses included retail and some professional management services.
“A lot of this is recovery from certain sectors, such as services and health care, that have kept us afloat lately,” Bellisario said. “Our numbers have been largely driven by industries that normally don’t drive our economy. It’s those higher wage roles that have really stagnated lately.”
Overall, San Mateo and San Francisco counties saw a slight 1.1% increase in payroll jobs since October 2022, amounting to approximately 13,600 positions.