The economic recovery in the Bay Area and California is gaining steam, analysts said Thursday, yet the pace of job growth is being hampered by new technologies that enable employers to limit hiring.
Economists with the closely watched UCLA Anderson Forecast say the Bay Area is leading the economic rebound in California, and that California is leading the nation. But the upswing is uneven.
"This is a bifurcated recovery," said Anderson Forecast senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg.
Much of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego enjoy robust employment growth, primarily because they benefit from high-tech and biotech employment growth. Yet the East Bay, Central Valley and Inland Empire continue to struggle to add jobs.
Even within regions of California, the rebound is not spread evenly.
"If the kind of work you do can be replaced by a computer or a robot, you probably have a set of skills that will not take you very far into the future," Nickelsburg said.
High-tech job openings are plentiful, though many are contract jobs rather than full-time employment with benefits. In contrast, people in manufacturing, retail, logistics, leisure and hospitality and other sectors whose jobs can be automated or supplanted by technology are finding it tougher to land work.
"There are huge differences in the Bay Area," said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Stockton-based Business Forecasting Center at University of the Pacific. "Santa Clara County and San Francisco have recovered much more quickly than the East Bay. And the East Bay was hit much harder than the other areas during the Great Recession, but it hasn't recovered yet."
Economists also believe the trend toward automation helps explain why the overall economic recovery is tepid.
"We haven't had a solid jobs rebound, and the increased use of new technologies is one reason why," said Jordan Levine, director of economic research with Beacon Economics. "Companies can do more with less because they can use new technologies -- the Internet, software, new equipment, automated processes. If they need to meet rising demand for their products or services, they can do so without a major expansion of their payrolls."
Even when they find employment, some Bay Area workers say the jobs aren't quite what they want.
Many available technology openings are contract jobs that don't offer the health benefits and stability of full-time employment, said Gabriel Garcia, a San Jose resident whose field is information technology. "I'm working now at a tech company, but it's a contract job. I'd say 95 percent of the job offers I get are on a contract basis."
Orlando Watkins, an Oakland resident, wants to find a full-time job with a warehouse but can find only part-time work.
"The job market is very difficult, but I'm getting job offers here and there," Watkins said. "I'm taking the offers, but they are for part-time work. I want a full-time warehouse job."
Despite the slow pace in job growth, California can expect a steadily improving economy as measured by gains in payroll jobs, an improvement in the unemployment rate and a rise in personal income, the UCLA Anderson Forecast found.
"We are still seeing job growth, and we also are seeing more positive economic news from China, Japan and Europe," Nickelsburg said.
The forecast predicts that the state's payroll job growth will rise by 1.7 percent in 2013, 1.9 percent in 2014 and 2.2 percent in 2015. It says the jobless rate will average 8.9 percent this year, improve to an average of 7.9 percent in 2014 and drop to 6.9 percent by 2015.
"The worst is behind us," said Levine of Beacon Economics.
Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167 or 408-373-3556. twitter.com/georgeavalos