SF unemployment at 8.3 percent in February

April 3, 2009 12:57:15 PM PDT
San Francisco's jobless numbers rose again in February, hitting 8.3 percent, but at a slower rate than previous months, a hint that the local economy may be recovering at least from the sharp downturn late last year, city economists said.

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A report released Thursday from the city controller's office said the 0.2-percent rise in unemployment in February coincided with a similar smaller rise in unemployment statewide that month.

California's unemployment rate rose to 10.5 percent in February, up from 10.1 percent the previous month, according to the state Employment Development Department.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor released a report today that unemployment across the country rose in March from 8.1 to 8.5 percent.

The report said 5.1 million jobs nationwide have been lost since the recession began in December 2007.

While it is "premature to speculate on when unemployment might peak locally," the San Francisco report said, "Nevertheless, we may be at the end of the sudden downturn that started last fall, and entering a period of more gradual decline."

According to Kurt Fuchs, senior economist with San Francisco's Office of the Controller, the largest recent surge in unemployment in the city occurred between December and January, when the jobless rate rose from 6.6 percent to 8 percent.

February's unemployment numbers represent a positive sign, but it's unknown whether that will continue, Fuchs said.

"It could be the start of leveling off, and a gradual decline, or it could continue to go up," Fuchs said.

"It's a time of great uncertainty," he said.

Fuchs said the expected influx of federal stimulus monies to begin infrastructure and other projects in San Francisco could be a boon to local industries hardest hit by the recession, including construction.

Other economic indicators, such as median housing prices, one-bedroom rental prices and tourism, also showed smaller rates of decline in February, according to the report.

The report additionally cautioned about a "large" 1.5 percent drop in February in temporary employment, given the lack of seasonal layoffs that month.

Temporary employment is considered a key jobs indicator because temporary workers are often the first to lose their jobs during an economic downturn, and also the first to be hired during a recovery.

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