SLO County’s unemployment rate hasn’t been this low since 2001

Nearly 100 employers attended the 28th annual Cal Poly Ag Showcase in January at the farm shop at Cal Poly. San Luis Obispo’s April unemployment rate of 3.3 was the lowest since May 2001.
Nearly 100 employers attended the 28th annual Cal Poly Ag Showcase in January at the farm shop at Cal Poly. San Luis Obispo’s April unemployment rate of 3.3 was the lowest since May 2001. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County’s unemployment rate last month was not only lower than pre-recession rates from the late 2000s — it was actually the lowest it’s been in more than 15 years.

The April unemployment rate in the county was 3.3 percent, according to data released Friday by the California Employment Development Department.

That’s the lowest rate since May 2001.

But that’s not all: Because of seasonal work fluctuations, which can be significant, unemployment data are typically compared with those of the same month year over year. Using that methodology, the county hasn’t had this low of an April rate since 1999.

So the last time April unemployment was this low in the county was last century.

This month’s rate also compared well against the rest of California and the country. SLO County’s 3.3 percent rate was lower than the 4.5 percent rate for California and the 4.1 percent for the nation in the same month.

SLO County tied with Orange County for sixth best among California’s 58 counties (San Mateo County had the lowest with 2.5 percent, while Imperial County came in highest with 19.2 percent).

In April, about 136,300 people were counted as employed in San Luis Obispo County out of a civilian labor force of 140,900. The labor force includes everyone working and looking for work.

Excluding those who are self-employed, companies and agencies in the county reported 2,500 more jobs in April than in the same month last year — about a 2.2 percent increase.

The numbers can be misleading, though.

Mike Manchak of the Economic Vitality Corp. cautioned that though the low unemployment rate looks good on the surface, many economists believe unemployment rates don’t accurately indicate the health of the economy.

“Athough I am not an economist, most economists question unemployment rates as they do not include lots of factors, not the least of which is UNDERemployment,” Manchak wrote Friday in an email to The Tribune, noting that the county has historically had a relatively high underemployment rate.

(Underemployment is when people are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs that don’t necessarily fit to their level of training or economic needs.)

The biggest gains were made in the leisure and hospitality industry (i.e. hotels and food services), which added about 800 jobs since last year, including 500 between March and April alone.

That’s no big surprise considering SLO County relies heavily on tourism as one of its chief economic drivers. In a study released May 4, Visit California found that tourist dollars led to the creation of more than 400 new jobs in San Luis Obispo County in 2016, and tourists generated $1.58 billion in direct travel spending on items like plane tickets, hotel rooms, food, gas and entertainment. That was up more than $10 million from 2015.

According to the data, an industry that hasn’t been performing as well locally is professional and business services, where the county lost 600 jobs in the past year. Though there was some good news there: that industry did add 100 jobs between March and April of this year.

How did your city stack up?

Of the largest cities in the county, Atascadero reported the lowest jobless rate in April, at 2.7 percent, with 400 of its 15,300 workforce-eligible residents counted as unemployed, according to the sub-county data from the Employment Development Department.

The city of San Luis Obispo’s jobless rate was 3.5 percent, with 900 of its 25,800-person workforce counted as unemployed.

Following that was Paso Robles, which reported a rate of 3.7 percent, with 600 of its 16,300 eligible workers unemployed.

Among the smaller cities, Arroyo Grande reported a rate of 2.8 percent, with 300 of its 9,500 eligible workers unemployed.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie