Do falling jobless numbers mean we're smart and focused, or rich and exclusive?

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The unemployment rate continues to drop in San Francisco and all over California, according to new numbers released today by the California Employment Development Department, which were trumpeted by Mayor Ed Lee as vindication for his economic development policies.

“San Francisco’s steady economic recovery is the result of our continued focus on job creation, education and training residents for the demands of the 21st century workforce. San Franciscans are getting back to work across the spectrum of job sectors – from hospitality to construction to technology to service industry jobs and we will continue to help these sectors grow in our City,” Lee said in a press release.

But are Lee’s neoliberal policies of promoting technology and other corporations with tax breaks and city-subsidized training programs and financing mechanisms really creating the rosy economic picture he’s painting? And even if it is helping to promote boom times, at what point have we essentially reached full employment, the point at which we should maybe turn our focus and resources to addressing the rising cost of living here?

After all, San Francisco’s unemployment rate of 5.4 percent is third only to Marin County (4.6 percent) and San Mateo County (5.1 percent). Those three counties also just happen to be the three counties with the highest per capita incomes in the state, a fact that explains our jobless rate more than the mid-Market payroll tax exemption and other taxpayer giveaways.

“Unemployment rates tend to be lowest in areas with high education attainment,” Ruth Kavanagh, EDD’s labor market consultant for this area, told us when we called to discuss the disparties among counties.

What about the rising cost of living in San Francisco? Clearly, this is becoming a much more difficult city for the unemployed and marginally employed to remain living in. How much are gentrification, evictions, and the exodus to the East Bay (Alameda County’s rate is 7 percent, still better than the statewide rate of 8.5 percent) and other locales a factor in our low jobless rate?

Kavanagh said the EDD doesn’t directly track that and so she couldn’t address the question. But she did say that the Bay Area was indeed experiencing the fastest job growth in the state, driven largely by the tech industry. In the last year, this three-county area has added 9,600 jobs in Professional Business Services (which includes tech) and 4,600 each in Leisure & Hospitality and Construction.

Indeed, in his State of the City speech in January, Lee touted the 23 construction cranes on the city skyline as the best gauge of the state of the city. And if counting jobs is one’s only measure of success, San Francisco is doing as well as can be expected. Kavanagh said most economists consider “full employment” within the capitalist system to be somewhere between 4-5 percent.     

Yet Lee says he’s not backing off from his full-throttle focus on economic development. “San Francisco’s unemployment rate today stands at a five-year low and I will continue to pursue policies that get people back to work, support San Francisco families and invest in our City’s future,” he said. “This Summer through San Francisco Summer Jobs +, we are setting an aggressive goal of putting 6,000 youth to work in paid jobs and internships, and I will continue working hard to make sure all San Franciscans have access to good paying jobs.”

Now if only we all had access to reasonably priced housing, health care, food, entertainment, and a transportation system built to handle a growing population.

-sigh-

Now get back to work!