Since 1990, the unemployment rate in the Bay Area has swung widely with each boom-and-bust cycle—a high of 10.5% in 2010 and a historic low of 2.7% in 2019.
The Great Recession led to a dramatic spike in unemployment across the country. In the Bay Area, the regional unemployment rate more than doubled, rising from 4.5% in 2007 to 10.5% in 2010. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a more dramatic rise in the unemployment rate—almost tripling from a historic low of 2.7% in 2019 to 8.1% in 2020—before dropping back to 3.4% in 2022.
Of the nine counties in the Bay Area, Solano County had the highest rate of unemployment in 2022, at 5.3%. For most years since 1990, Solano County has topped the list of Bay Area counties in relation to unemployment - dipping below the regional average only in 2002 and 2003. Marin, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, by contrast, have fared significantly better, with unemployment rates remaining consistently below the regional average over the last decade.
The unemployment rate in Solano County was 5.3% in 2022, the highest rate for counties in the Bay Area
The unemployment rate in San Mateo County was 2.7% in 2022, the lowest rate for counties in the Bay Area
Historical Trend for Unemployment Rate
A majority of Bay Area communities experienced peak unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic but have since made a significant recovery.
Oakland, the third most populous city in the region, exemplifies this regional trend. The unemployment rate in Oakland was at a historic low of 3.4% in 2019, a 12-percentage point improvement from its peak of 15.4% in 2009, during the height of the Great Recession. Oakland’s unemployment rate again spiked during the COVID-19 shutdowns, to 11.0% in 2020, before dropping to 4.6% by 2022.
As of 2022, a large share of Bay Area jurisdictions experienced low unemployment rates relative to the recent past. In 2022, over 70% of Bay Area cities had unemployment rates below 4.0%. The region’s lowest unemployment rates were found in jurisdictions such as Half Moon Bay, Cloverdale, Mill Valley, Larkspur and Palo Alto. The region’s highest unemployment rates were found in jurisdictions such as Rio Vista, Fairfax, Antioch, Brisbane and Vallejo.
The unemployment rate in Rio Vista was 9.8% in 2022, the highest rate for jurisdictions in the Bay Area
The unemployment rate in Half Moon Bay was 0.9% in 2022, the lowest rate for jurisdictions in the Bay Area
Unemployment Rates for Cities (2022)
Unemployment in the Bay Area generally follows similar trends as other large metros in the nation, though the degrees of the peaks and valleys may vary.
Over the past 25 years, the Bay Area has generally seen unemployment crest during recessions at levels above the national average. However, during periods of economic growth, the Bay Area’s unemployment rate has been among the nation’s lowest. From 2010 to 2019, the Bay Area unemployment rate fell by nearly 8 percentage points, one of the largest drops among other major U.S. metro areas. The Bay Area also had one of the lowest unemployment rates among major U.S. metro areas in 2019.
Much like other large metro areas in the United States, the Bay Area unemployment rate experienced a sharp increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. That being said, the unemployment rate in the Bay Area during this time was about average relative to other large metro areas. Strong employment in the tech industry and relatively low unemployment going into the pandemic are some reasons why the unemployment rate in the Bay Area was not exceptionally high relative to other metro areas during the pandemic.
The unemployment rate in New York City was 7.3% in 2022, which is high relative to other large metro areas in the nation
Metro Comparison for Unemployment Rate
Sources & Methodology
Unemployment rates produced by the CA Employment Development Department (EDD) for the region and county levels are not adjusted for seasonality (as they reflect annual data) and are final data (i.e., not preliminary). Unemployment rates produced by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for the metro regions are annual and not adjusted for seasonality; they reflect the primary metropolitan statistical area (MSA) for the named region, except for the San Francisco Bay Area which uses the nine-county region. The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of unemployed persons divided by the total labor force. Note that the unemployment rate can decline or increase as a result of changes in either variable.
California Employment Development Department: Historical Unemployment Rates
Spreadsheet provided by CAEDD
California Employment Development Department: Labor Force and Unemployment Rate for California Sub-County Areas
California Employment Development Department: Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)