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Employment Outlook: San Francisco

by Mary Anne Thompson, Founder and President, Goinglobal, Inc.

San Francisco’s economy is strong and its unemployment low, as its tech, health and financial industries thrive.

For years, the San Francisco area’s economy has been thriving. Its worker productivity is twice the national average. The San Francisco metropolitan region, including the communities of Oakland and Fremont, has just over 2.55 million workers in its labor force. Its unemployment rate is 3.5 percent – much lower than the 4.9 percent jobless rate statewide, and lower than its own 4.9 percent unemployment rate of a year ago.

San Francisco’s economy is predicted to keep growing slowly while the unemployment rate shrinks. Jobs are expected to grow by 2.2 percent this year and 1.8 percent next year. By 2018, the unemployment rate is expected to be lower than 3 percent.

The area produces more patents than anywhere else in the US and draws about one-third percent of the total venture capital in the nation. Not surprisingly, the San Francisco region has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of high tech, clean tech and biotechnology firms. Other key sectors include:

  • IT and software
  • Social and digital media
  • Professional services
  • International business

Many area businesses are small, employing fewer than 50 people. In fact, the city is home to more than 85,000 small and start-up businesses. There are also 15 Fortune 500 companies based in the San Francisco metro region:

Fortune 500 Companies in the San Francisco Metro Region




Charles Schwab


San Francisco


Household products


Core-Mark Holding

Food wholesalers

South San Francisco


Social media

Menlo Park

Franklin Resources


San Mateo



San Francisco

Gilead Sciences


Foster City


Health care

San Francisco


Computer software

Redwood City

PG&E Corp.

Gas and electric utilities

San Francisco

Ross Stores




Computer software

San Francisco

Synnex Corp.

Electronics and office equipment wholesalers



Financial data services

Foster City

Wells Fargo

Commercial banks

San Francisco


San Francisco is home to large companies, too. Its largest employers include:

  • Wells Fargo: 8,195 employees
  • Salesforce: 6,600 employees
  • California Pacific Medical Center: 6,000 employees
  • PG&E Corp: 4,325 employees
  • Kaiser Permanente: 5,249 employees
  • Gap: 4,268 employees
  • Dignity Health: 2,550 employees
  • Academy of Art University: 2,430 employees
  • Williams-Sonoma: 2,320 employees
  • Accenture: 2,200 employees

With a 2.4 percent increase in employment last year, San Francisco is now ranked one of the top five best cities in the country to find a job by Business Insider.

Areas of Job Promise

The tech sector has been leading the area’s employment gains, despite layoffs within the last year. The sector grew by 3.1 percent in the San Francisco-San Mateo metro area in the last 12 months. Currently, tech companies employ 20 percent of the metro area workforce.

The near-term employment outlook for the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region is favorable, according to the most recent Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. Among area companies surveyed about their staffing plans for the coming quarter:

  • 21 percent plan to hire workers
  • 3 percent plan to reduce staff
  • 70 percent plan to maintain current staff levels
  • 6 percent are uncertain of their hiring plans

Job prospects appear best in construction, durable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, financial activities, professional and business services, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, other services and government. Hiring in nondurable goods manufacturing, transportation and utilities, and information is expected to remain unchanged.

Accounting and Finance Trends

  • Employment levels have bounced back in San Francisco’s finance sector, after losing about 25,000 jobs during the recession.
  • Approximately 146,000 people have financial jobs in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, up 4.3 percent in the last 12 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Business Management and Marketing Trends

  • The sector represents approximately 31 percent of San Francisco’s workforce.
  • Approximately 472,700 locals work in professional and business services, an increase of 2 percent in the last 12 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Among the area’s occupations with fastest growth projections are economists, and market research analysts and market specialists. Experts project economist jobs to grow by 56.6 percent by 2022, and market research analysts and market specialists to grow by 41.3 percent in the same amount of time.

Cleantech Trends

  • San Francisco has been dubbed the ‘Cleantech Capital of North America’ in recent years because of its dense concentration of clean tech companies and investors.
  • Currently, more than 225 clean technology companies are headquartered in San Francisco, including Suntech Power, a major manufacturer of solar photovoltaic cells and modules.

Health Care Trends

  • The area’s health care sector grew by nearly 3,000 jobs last year, an increase of 2.7 percent.
  • The industry employs 20 percent of San Francisco’s workforce, with nearly 107,000 jobs. Of those, the largest increase came in ambulatory health care services, which grew by 1,800 jobs over 12 months, an increase of 5.4 percent.

Biotechnology/Life Sciences Trends

  • The San Francisco Bay Area has the highest concentration of bio tech/life sciences companies in the US. Directly and indirectly, they employ nearly 250,000 workers.
  • One of the key reasons why the bioscience industry was born and continues to thrive in the area is the availability of high-quality university and research centers.
  • Biomedical engineers, biochemists and biophysicists, and medical scientists top the list of fastest-growing occupations in California, according to the California Employment Development Department.

Information Technology/Digital Media Trends

  • San Francisco’s high tech industry is the strongest in the world. In fact, the city is being called the new Silicon Valley. Today, technology is San Francisco’s fastest-growing sector.
  • Digital media is another hot industry sector in San Francisco, with more than 300 companies operating in the Bay Area, including Dolby, Pixar, Sony, Twitter and YouTube.
  • There are more than 779,300 workers in the IT and digital media industries in the Bay Area, which makes it the largest concentration of skilled technology employees in the US.


San Franciscans earn more than elsewhere in the nation, with the average starting salaries approximately 38 percent higher than the national average, according to Robert Half. The average annual wage in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro area is 69,100 USD, though many residents make upwards of 100,000 USD annually.

The following are average hourly wages for some selected occupations in the San Francisco metropolitan area:


Average Hourly Wage  San Francisco (USD)

Average Hourly Wage  National (USD)




Computer programmers






Graphic designers



Human resources manager






Registered nurses



Retail salespersons



Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 


San Franciscans enjoy high salaries and a variety of job opportunities. With low unemployment, the U.S.’s 14th-largest city offers stable employment to residents and those jobseekers looking to settle in the area. A tech leader, San Francisco also maintains job openings in health care, education, accounting and finance, business management and more.   


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