National, state jobs reports point to a pick-up in hiring

Source: Contra Costa Times

The latest snapshots of local, state and national hiring trends offered encouraging signs about the nation’s fledgling recovery, with employers here and across the country beefing up their payrolls. Yet even as the job market sputters back to life after three brutal years of recession, analysts cautioned that the comeback trail will be rugged and lengthy.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent in February, the government reported, the lowest level since April 2009. Employers added 192,000 jobs, despite the loss of 30,000 government jobs.

While the South Bay lost 11,900 jobs from December to January, largely in retail and other non-technology sectors, tech hiring showed continued strength. The San Francisco-San Mateo-Marin area lost 23,000 jobs, primarily in hospitality and retail-related industries, but also saw signs of strength in tech hiring. January is the latest month for which state employment data are available.

Janice Shriver with the state’s Employment Development Department in Santa Clara County was particularly struck by job gains in tech-heavy industries. “The big story,” she said, “is the year-over-year growth in manufacturing, information, and professional and business services.”

Since January 2010, she said, the information sector added 4,500 jobs in the San Jose metropolitan area, while manufacturing showed a net increase of 3,700 jobs.

“It’s clear that Silicon Valley has been in recovery mode for a while. Gradually, the rest of the Bay Area is starting to look up, too,” added Jeffrey Michael, director of the Stockton-based Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific.

Bob Withers, who works with the Sunnyvale-based career-networking center ProMatch, said the rush of new tech jobs in the valley that began two months ago is still picking up steam.

“We’re seeing a lot of hardware and software engineers going back to work,” he said. “People are getting multiple interviews and even two and three offers, and they’re even starting to negotiate higher salaries” by leveraging one offer against another.

“The activity,” Withers said, “is much more dramatic than it was a year ago.”

North of Silicon Valley, the tech-jobs picture looked promising, if not as vibrant as San Jose. The EDD’s Ruth Kavanagh said that for San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties, the total number of jobs increased by 1,800 from a year earlier. Much of that jump was attributed to new jobs in the professional and business services categories, which added 5,100.

Region’s jobless rates

California added 12,500 payroll jobs, adjusted for seasonal changes, in January. The statewide jobless rate was 12.4 percent in January, an improvement from the 12.5 percent rate in December, the EDD reported.

The unemployment rate in the San Francisco metropolitan region, which includes San Mateo and Marin counties, was 8.9 percent in January, up from a revised 8.5 percent in December, and below the year-ago figure of 9.6 percent. The number in the San Jose region was 10.8 percent in January 2011, up from 10.6 percent a month earlier but below the 12.1 percent at the beginning of 2010.

“California is on the road back,” said Michael Bernick, a San Francisco-based research fellow with the Milken Institute. “But it’s a long and winding road.”

The state released January numbers Friday because of the time it took to work on a revision of the figures for all of 2010. State officials won’t release employment data for February for a few weeks.

Hiring plans

Individual valley firms are also upbeat about their hiring plans. After adding 4,500 new employees last year, Google said recently that it expected 2011 to be its most robust hiring year in the company’s history, as it plans to add more than 6,200 workers around the world, at least 2,000 of which will be in the Bay Area. And the tech-centric online job site Dice.com said it saw a 41 percent jump in job postings in Silicon Valley as of Tuesday over a year ago.

“When the hiring environment started to improve last year, Silicon Valley and New York were the first regions we saw turn,” said Alice Hill, the site’s managing director. “Software developers are in demand along with tech professionals with experience in Java, Linux, the C languages or Oracle.”

Picky employers

But it’s still not easy for some people to find work.

Rachaelle Pierce, a San Jose resident, is looking for a job in customer service or order procurement. But she’s finding that prospective employers are being quite picky.

“It’s a little difficult right now,” Pierce said. “I’m getting some interviews. But I’m struggling to find something decent right now.”

Adding to the tough times, Pierce is finding that hourly rates for her type of work are about $22 an hour, a far cry from the $40 an hour she was making in 2009 for the same type of job.

But Kirk Lesser, who runs Newark-based Renascence I.T. Consulting, said he’s seeing business increase. “But I may be getting more jobs because companies don’t want to hire full-time people for their tech work.”

Despite the improvement, analysts warned that a continued rise in gasoline prices could hinder hiring.

“We have turned the corner, but it’s a long process to regain the 1.4 million jobs we have lost in California in the last three years,” Bernick said. “We have gained back slightly less than 1 percent of those lost jobs.”