Bay Area unemployment not as bad

March 20, 2009 7:34:45 PM PDT
Although there seems to be growing optimism about the federal stimulus program, the recession continues to take its toll in workplaces around the state. The California jobless rate jumped again during the past month, to 10.5 percent.

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Nearly 2 million people are now on the unemployment rolls ? twice the population of San Jose. But the Bay Area is better off than most places. Marin County has the lowest unemployment in the state; San Mateo County is the second lowest.

Silicon Valley, however, now has the highest jobless rate in the Bay Area. And the outlook is dim, especially in the technology sector.

Sun Microsystems in Santa Clara filed notice two months ago it is planning to lay off nearly 600 people next week. Along with two other companies, that will mean 774 people are set to lose their jobs as March comes to a close. Notices of 902 layoffs have been filed for April, and looking into May and beyond, 277 layoffs have been scheduled so far.

The CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, which tracks high tech employment, says it could take one or two years for a job recovery.

"Silicon Valley is captive to national and global trends, that's what's going on here," Russell Hancock said. "Our tech firms are national and global markets, these markets are under distress, and tech spending is something that is one of the first things to go in a downturn."

Construction jobs have been scarce all winter. Some analysts think the jobless rate in this sector has reached 30 percent. South Bay labor leaders, however, think there is hope in sight.

"The appropriations process in D.C. is just beginning, and also transportation, which essentially funds transportation across this country, that act is about to be reauthorized. So it means we'll be building roads, freeways, mass transit, which is critical, so I think there's hope for construction in California," South Bay Labor Council executive officer Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins said.

The one bright spot in the labor market is health care. O'Connor Hospital in San Jose confirms that it has job openings. The registered nursing program at San Jose State University is full, although employment is not guaranteed when they graduate.

"Some of the hospitals aren't hiring as many; the other thing that's happening is because the hospitals really want to hire people with experience, so the new grads are having a little bit of a challenge finding positions sometimes," Professor Daryl Canham said.

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