The Bay Area job market stumbled in February but the region continued to outpace the state and nation in job growth, a report released Friday showed.
Employers shed more than 2,000 jobs in the Bay Area during February, breaking a 19-month streak of job gains, according to this newspaper's analysis of figures from the state's Employment Development Department.
But over the past year, job growth in the South Bay and San Francisco metro areas was more than twice as fast as the countrywide rate, and even the struggling East Bay is growing more quickly than the United States overall.
"The tech rebound is firmly in place," said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.
Job totals over the 12 months that ended in February grew 3.5 percent in the San Francisco metro region, 3.1 percent in the South Bay, and 2.1 percent in the East Bay. The overall Bay Area job market expanded by 2.9 percent.
In contrast, the United States job market grew at a 1.5 percent annual rate, and California by 2.1 percent.
"The Bay Area, and particularly, the South Bay and San Francisco, are the epicenter for social media, mobile and Internet commerce," said Michael Bernick, a research fellow with the Milken Institute and a former EDD director. "These strengths are why the Bay Area outpaces the state and the nation."
Demand is so strong for technology skills that Bay Area unemployment for people in the tech sector ranges from 1 percent to 3 percent, said Heather Johnston, branch manager with the San Jose office of Robert Half International, a staffing services firm.
"Production and database administrators, software engineers and people who work on software as a service, and cloud computing services and products" are all in demand, Johnston said. "We are also seeing hiring in biotech and mobile applications."
The Bay Area upswing goes well beyond the tech sector, Levy said.
"This rebound is technology driven," he said. "But it is now spreading to the consumer-driven part of the economy, and it is spreading regionally, from the South Bay and San Francisco into the East Bay, and into other industries."
One case in point is construction, an industry savaged by the mortgage meltdown and recession.
"We are now seeing an upswing in demand for construction," Johnston said.
Yet as with any recovery, the pace of the rebound has been uneven.
The Bay Area lost 2,600 jobs in February; the San Francisco-San Mateo-Marin region shed 2,900 jobs and the East Bay lost 2,600. Those setbacks made the South Bay, with a gain of 2,300 jobs, the strongest job market in the Bay Area by far.
The setback in the Bay Area snapped a string of 19 consecutive months of job gains in the nine-county region that began in July 2011, this newspaper's analysis of the EDD report showed.
That streak suggests the Bay Area job losses are only a temporary retrenchment, said Jordan Levine, an economist and director of economic research with Beacon Economics.
"This was a wobble and not a trend," said Levine, who attributed the month's losses to a statistical anomaly resulting from a recent revision of annual job figures.
California added 41,200 jobs during February, which lowered the statewide jobless rate to 9.6 percent, down from 9.8 percent in January, the EDD reported.
Jobless rates in the Bay Area also improved, demonstrating that jobless rates and losses or gains in total payroll jobs can go in different directions at times because the two sets of figures are derived from different sources.
In February, the South Bay's unemployment rate was at 7.5 percent, down from 8 percent the month before. The East Bay was at 8 percent, down from 8.5 percent. The San Francisco area was at 6 percent, down from 6.3 percent, according to a Beacon Economics analysis of the EDD figures.
"This recovery has legs," Levy said.
Contact George Avalos at 408-373-3556 or 925-977-8477. Follow him at twitter.com/george_avalos. ___
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