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State Unemployment Rate Jumps To Highest On Record As Labor Force Shrinks; Silver Lining: Three-Quarters Say They Are ‘Temporarily’ Unemployed

May 26, 2020 — The public health mandates implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are having a devastating effect on the labor market in California. Total nonfarm employment in the state declined by 2,344,700 positions in April, the largest month-to-month decline on record, according to an analysis released jointly by Beacon Economics and the UC Riverside School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development.

This enormous decline in payrolls pushed California’s year-over-year employment growth to -13.4%, the largest annual decline on record. The state performed slightly worse than the national economy, where nonfarm employment declined by 12.9% over the same period.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, however, every cloud may have a silver lining: Around 75% of workers who have been laid off in the state report that they are temporarily unemployed, and the hope is that many will return to their prior jobs as communities across the state begin to re-open. That said, the road back to the unemployment rate the state was enjoying in February (3.9%), is long. The pain of worker dislocation has been eased by Federal and state assistance, but much like the search for a vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), the cure for the disruption caused to the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers in the state will not be found quickly.

In April, the number of unemployed workers in California increased to 2,885,300, over two and half times the level seen one month earlier. From March to April, 1.8 million workers were added to the state’s unemployment ranks, with the unemployment rate swelling from 5.5% in March to 15.5% in April (the highest on record).

“As extraordinary as these numbers are, they will likely get worse before they get better,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and the UCR Center. “Despite the gradual re-opening of the economy, numbers from the Federal government suggest the ranks of the unemployed have continued to swell throughout May.”

Moreover, the alarming figures understate the true extent of worker dislocation. Over the month, 600,000 workers have left the labor force in California, or in other words, have become discouraged and stopped their search for employment. As such, these residents are not officially counted among the unemployed. In fact, since February 2020, nearly one million workers (947,800) have left the labor force in the state. If these workers were included among the unemployed, and after all, they were either employed or were looking for work just two months ago, the state’s unemployment rate would have been around 21% in April. Since February, the state’s labor force has contracted by 5%.

The disruption has been felt more severely in some industries than others.

Key Findings:

  • The Leisure and Hospitality sector led job declines in April, shedding 866,200 positions. This translates into an extraordinary drop of 44% in one month for the sector. Accommodation and Food Services was responsible for the majority of these job losses, where 732,800 positions were lost. As parts of the economy opens up, many of these jobs will return, but the impact of the public health mandated closures, especially the suppressed levels of inter-regional and international travel, means that a significant number of the jobs in these sectors will be slow to recover. The Health Care and Leisure and Hospitality sectors also saw strong employment growth in October, adding 4,800 and 4,600 jobs, respectively. The Finance and Insurance (2,800), Real Estate (2,500), Manufacturing (2,300), Wholesale Trade (2,200), and Construction (2,100) sectors also posted gains in October.
  • Other sectors posting sizeable declines in April were Retail Trade (-275,200 or 17% of all jobs), Health Care (-246,500 or 10%), Administrative Support (-150,400 or 13%), Other Services (-142,500 or 28%), and Construction (-132,100 or 15%).
  • The state’s highest paying sectors have not been immune, although the declines in these sectors have been less pronounced. In the Professional and Business Services sector 242,800 (-9%) jobs were shed during the month. This included nearly 80,000 (-6%) jobs lost in Professional, Scientific and Technical Services. In the Information sector, the number of jobs fell by 40,500 (-7%) during the month. These represent extraordinary declines in some of the state’s most prized industries.
  • Regionally, job declines were concentrated in Southern California. Los Angeles (MD) saw the biggest drop, where payrolls fell by 691,300 during the month. Orange County (-226,200), San Diego (-197,600), and the Inland Empire (-147,600) also shed a significant number of jobs during the month. Over the past year, Orange County (-15.5%) saw the steepest job losses in the region, measured by percentage decrease, followed by Los Angeles (MD) (-14.8%), San Diego (-13.2%), Ventura (-11.8%), and the Inland Empire (-9.5%). In a reversal from what occurred during the Great Recession, the inland parts of the states have not been hit as badly as coastal communities.
  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, the East Bay experienced the largest declines, where payrolls fell by 171,800 positions in April. San Francisco (MD) (-169,500), San Jose (-128,100), Santa Rosa (-40,000), Vallejo (-18,400), San Rafael (MD) (-16,800), and Napa (-10,500) also saw payrolls decline during the month. Over the past year, Santa Rosa (-18.1%) had the steepest declines in the region, followed by the East Bay (-14.9%), San Rafael (MD) (-14.2%), and San Francisco (MD) (-13.6%).
  • In the Central Valley, Sacramento experienced the largest monthly declines as payrolls contracted by 149,800 positions. Payrolls in Bakersfield (-30,900), Fresno (-30,400), Stockton (-27,000), Modesto (-23,000), and Visalia (-10,000) declined as well. Over the last year, Sacramento (-14.1%) had the steepest declines followed by Redding (-14.0%), Modesto (-11.6%), Bakersfield (-10.3%), Stockton (-10.3%), Merced, (-9.9%), and Chico (-9.9%).
  • On California’s Central Coast, Salinas shed the largest number of jobs, with payrolls declining by 21,800 over the month. Payrolls in Santa Barbara (-21,200), Santa Cruz (-19,100), and San Luis Obispo (-19,000) also declined during the month. From a year-over-year perspective, Santa Cruz (-20.4%) shed positions at the fastest rate, followed by San Luis Obispo (14.4%), Salinas (-14.1%), and Santa Barbara (-11.7%).


The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.


An Uneven Expansion and Bounce Back for California’s Creative Economy



New Analysis Tracks Performance of State’s ‘Creative’ Industries Before, During, and After COVID, Revealing Longer-Term Direction

The economy that houses industries such as entertainment, media, fashion, and fine arts in California has weathered the pandemic and, as a whole, done better in its recovery from the COVID-driven recession than the overall economy, according a new analysis released today by the UCR School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development.

The study, Shock and Roll: California’s Creative Economy from 2015-2021, examines trends in the state’s creative industries prior to, during, and following the pandemic recession, finding that the Creative Economy has added a total of 70,064 jobs since 2015 and appears to be bouncing back to its 2019 pre-pandemic peak. Additionally, the Creative Economy workforce in California grew 8% over the study period, significantly faster than the overall workforce.

Even more impressive has been wage growth. On average, in California’s Creative Economy, per worker wages have increased a spectacular 40% since 2015. Wages among Creative Economy workers were already relatively high in 2015 at 1.8 times the average California worker wage, but by 2021, the average worker wage in the Creative Economy was 2.35 times higher. Indeed, Creative Economy wages started higher and accelerated during the pandemic, even outstripping today’s historic inflation.

“California is a global epicenter of the Creative Economy, and its industries are an engine of growth for the state and its workers,” said Dr. Patrick Adler, Research Manager at the Center for Economic Forecasting, and one of the report’s authors. “By looking at conditions and trends that were in progress before the pandemic as well as changes since, we’re able to put the COVID shock in proper context; our main finding is that the 2020 disruption did not throw the Creative Economy off its previous gains.”

The report’s topline analysis comes with a critical caveat: Many different sectors, producing widely different kinds of products, make up the Creative Economy – and the findings indicate that both longer-term performance, and the more recent recovery from the pandemic, varies considerably from sector to sector with some soaring and others declining.

The Media sector, which includes Digital Publishing, is the true stand out the sector that keyed Creative Economy growth in the 2015-2021 period. Media currently makes up 31.2% of all Creative Economy employment in the state and accounts for over half (53.3%) of all the Creative Economy wages paid. By themselves, Digital Publishing industries have added 125,885 jobs since 2015 and, counter to macro trends, added 12,216 jobs during the pandemic period alone.

The Architecture and Related Services sector is the only other major creative sector that had more jobs in 2021 than in 2015; all the others have lost employment since 2015. Unsurprisingly, Fine Arts and Performance was hit hardest by the pandemic, given health mandated restrictions on group activity, and Fashion stands out as the one sector that has been in almost steady employment decline since 2015.

California Creative Economy Employment Change by Major Subsector: 2015-2021

The analysis is part of the Center for Economic Forecasting’s ongoing research about California’s Creative Economy, its industry sectors, and workforce. Amid the angst of the pandemic and its economic effects, Adler and his fellow authors hope that providing clear diagnostics that reach back well before the COVID-19 crisis, as well as during and after, will inform long range economic and workforce development efforts within the creative industries. “There is an important, broader context that shows us certain industries were headed one way or another before the pandemic,” says Adler. “The state’s leaders ought to be thrilled with the long-term dynamism in Digital Publishing, and more concerned by declines in Entertainment and Creative Manufacturing.”

The report is accompanied by an online appendix containing a variety of graphs, figures, and maps that provide additional, drilled-down detail.

The complete analysis is available here. The appendix is available here. 

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Job Recovery in California’s Major Metros Still Lags Other Areas; Transition from Recovery to Expansion Expected by Early 2023



Collapsing Inventories Will Keep Upward Pressure on Home Prices in State’s Notoriously Expensive Urban Housing Markets

California’s major metropolitan regions have continued to recover the jobs lost during the pandemic-driven recession although, with one exception, they are still lagging the state and nation. A new analysis released today by Beacon Economics spotlights steady job gains in five of the state’s largest metros but also illustrates the ground that these urban cores need to make up to reach pre-pandemic levels of employment.

From best performing to worst, San Diego County payrolls now stand 2.2% below their pre-recession peak, the South Bay/Silicon Valley comes in 3% below, Los Angeles 3.8%, the East Bay/Oakland 4%, and San Francisco 4.7% below peak. All of the metros except San Diego are trailing California’s statewide jobs recovery, now 2.8% below peak, and all are trailing the nation as a whole where payrolls are 1.8% lower than they were prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

“With health-mandated restrictions pretty much lifted, and with relatively high vaccination rates in the state, the major headwinds to employment growth have largely faded and we expect each of these major urban centers to reach or surpass pre-pandemic job levels by early 2023,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the report authors.

The analysis also examines the red-hot housing markets in California’s large metros, forecasting that home prices will continue rising in the near-term future even though high demand throughout the pandemic has essentially collapsed already tight housing inventories. “A lack of housing supply was a real dilemma in California long before COVID, but the changes the pandemic brought about in terms of wealth, work routines, and consumer preferences has intensified the problem,” said Osman.

According to the analysis, increasing mortgage interest rates, as well as limits on affordability, will cool price growth from the historic double-digit surges that have been occurring in the state’s major metros over the past several years, but none of the five areas studied will see price declines any time soon.

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Excessive Stimulus ‘Dangerously’ Overheating the U.S. Economy; Near Term Forecast Still Strong But Long Run Instabilities Loom



Home Price Surge Intensifying California’s Workforce Shortage

The 3rd quarter’s real U.S. GDP growth rate disappointed many observers and set off calls to continue various Federal government stimulus programs, or at least slow their reduction. However, a well-regarded economic forecast argues that there is nothing intrinsically worrisome about the 2.1% GDP growth rate (in the nine years leading up to the pandemic, the U.S. economy grew at this same pace or slower for 16 out of 36 quarters) and that over stimulus is now the real threat to the economy.

According to Beacon Economics latest outlook for the United States and California, the U.S. economy has recovered from the pandemic recession, which ‘officially’ ended in May 2020 (peak to trough), and is now becoming dangerously overheated as a result of excessive stimulus – triggering today’s hyperinflation, labor shortages, and severe supply chain disruptions.

“In a normal year, this rate would be applauded as a solid growth trend, but because job numbers and real economic output are still lower than they would have been had the pandemic not happened, we’re hitting the panic button,” said Christopher Thornberg, Founding Partner of Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Numerous metrics combine to constitute an economic recovery and so many are currently at red hot growth levels that continuing to pump stimulus into the economy in an effort to chase down raw job counts and domestic output will do more harm than good.”

According to the new analysis, job and output numbers are not the sole, and sometimes not even the most important, metrics in terms of economic recovery after a recession. The outlook points to a host of key indicators that are overheated or flourishing including consumer spending, government spending on public services, business investment, real estate markets, personal wealth and earnings… and job opportunities. While there are 4 million fewer payroll jobs in the United States today (2.6% less than pre-pandemic), there are 10 million job openings – a result of record high retirements and quitting. The nation’s unemployment rate has also fallen to 4.2%, just 0.7 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic low, which was itself one of the lowest in U.S. history.

“The real problem in today’s jobs market is the 3-million-person decrease that has hit the U.S. labor force; it isn’t normal,” said Thornberg. “We’ve been facing a looming labor shortage for years, driven by basic demographics, but the excessive stimulus has hastened the process and we need to step off the accelerator.”

Many parts of California’s economy have also returned to pre-pandemic levels, but like the nation, the state is challenged by a diminished labor force which has led to a severe shortage of workers. According to the outlook, California’s labor force has 414,700 fewer workers than it did pre-pandemic.

“The state’s shrunken workforce has emerged as the biggest constraint on future employment expansion,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and one of the forecast authors. “Although Governor Newsom has just reinstated a statewide indoor mask mandate, restrictions on business activity have been removed for months and are not the main driver of California’s labor market issues – worker supply is.”

There are still 5% (900,000) fewer jobs in California than there were prior to the pandemic, compared to 2.8% fewer jobs nationally. In some other states, the number of jobs has exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

The underlying issue that is most exacerbating California’s struggle to attract and retain the workforce it needs, is the price of housing. In the third quarter of 2021, California’s median home price surged to $651,383, compared to the national median of $404,700. “That kind of price disparity is bound to have a major impact on where workers choose to live, most especially lower-income workers who are impossibly strained in California’s housing environment,” said Osman. The new outlook is forecasting home prices in the state to steadily climb throughout 2022.

Overall, the near-term economic forecast in both the United States and California boils down to a strong run over the next couple of years (with labor supply being the biggest constraint), but with long-term storm clouds on the horizon. U.S. GDP is forecast to grow by 5.3% in the 4th quarter, falling to a more sustainable 3.7% in the 1st quarter of 2022.

View The Beacon Outlook here.

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