What Bubble? S.F. Employment is at Record Levels (As Workforce Shrinks)

Sanguine news today from the state Employment Development Department. Employment — as in the opposite of unemployment, which is a bad thing — in San Francisco is at a 16-year high, and the city is closer to full employment today than at any other time since 2000. Which are good things.

The city's unemployment rate is 3.1 percent, according to the EDD. A great thing, even, as that low figure ties San Francisco with Marin County for the lowest unemployment rates in California.

Politicians are, predictably, celebrating. “We are experiencing a tremendous economic recovery from our unrelenting focus on putting people back to work and bringing opportunity and hope back,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement. (Lee noted that unemployment was in double digits when he took office five years ago.)

What's not to love? Pessimists and pejorists, rejoice: for every job San Francisco added, two people left the workforce, according to EDD data.

[jump] The EDD says there are 552,800 people able to work in San Francisco, down from 553,400 the month before. So while the city added 300 jobs, 600 fewer people are seeking work.

That's a bit worse than the statewide average. Across the state, there were 56,000 jobs added from April to May, according to statistics, while 13,000 people left the workforce. 

Why does this happen? People get old, they die, they give up on looking for work. This, of course, is the main problem with employment data.  A low unemployment rate sounds great until you consider a record number of Americans are no longer seeking work or when you take a peek at what these jobs actually are.

And what are these jobs, exactly? According to the EDD, most jobs available in the area are low-paying gigs, like cashiers and food prep. Not exactly the best work in the world, nor is it permanent. As usual, most jobs are service jobs, the existence of which is tied to the ability of everybody else to have extra cash to pay for services.

About the worst time to hear about how great things are is when you're out of work yourself. If you're one of the 3.1 percent of people without work — asking yourself, “what's wrong with me?” — consider: your problem could be that you're still trying.

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