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CA Employment Battered In March Numbers; April Likely To Be Worse



State Unemployment Rate Jumps To Highest Point Since 2016; Labor Force Declines

April 17, 2020 — As expected, the latest numbers from the California EDD show that the COVID-19 pandemic and halt in economic activity is having a significantly negative impact on employment and businesses in California, according to analysis released jointly by Beacon Economics and the UC Riverside School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development.

The state’s total nonfarm payrolls declined by 99,500 in March, the largest month-to-month decline since the depths of the ‘Great Recession’. It’s also important to note that the data are an employment count as of the 12th of the month, which preceded the stay-at-home order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom. As a result, these numbers are likely painting a rosier picture of the state’s actual economic conditions during the month of March.

“While the current report paints a bleak enough picture, unfortunately, things are likely even worse, and have very likely become much worse in April,” said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics and the UCR Center. “Just how quickly employment growth returns will depend on when stay-at-home orders are lifted, and when the state’s residents feel comfortable resuming their normal activities… but at this point, we can’t put a timeline on when this will happen.”

Despite the steep decline in California’s nonfarm payrolls in March, the state still increased payrolls by 150,400 jobs or 0.9% over the last year. This attests to the fact that California’s economy entered the crisis from a position of strength. However, this strength will be tested over the coming months as the economy nears recession.

The state’s unemployment rate jumped considerably in March, increasing by 1.4 percentage points to 5.3%. This marks California’s highest unemployment rate since August 2016. Moreover, this increase came in the face of a 251,800 decline in the state’s labor force. California’s labor force has now declined by 0.5% over the last year. Household employment also fell considerably, falling by 512,600 during the month and by 1.6% from March 2019 to March 2020.

Key Findings:

  • Government While a significant number of the state’s job sectors saw declines in March, the majority of job losses were concentrated in the Leisure and Hospitality sector, which shed 67,200 positions during the month. The steep decline pushed year-over-year growth to a 1.9% decline.
  • The Other Services sector also posted significant declines in March, decreasing payrolls by 15,500. Other sectors posting large losses were Construction (-11,600), Manufacturing (-5,300), Administrative Support (-4,800), Professional, Scientific, & Technical Services (-4,400), Retail Trade (-3,200), and Wholesale Trade (-1,800).
  • Despite the widespread declines in March, a significant number of sectors continued to post job gains. The Government sector posted the largest gains, increasing payrolls by 5,200. Other sectors posting gains in March were Information (2,600), Finance & Insurance (2,100), Real Estate (1,900), and Health Care (1,300).
  • Over the twelve-month period from March 2019 to March 2020, the Information (5.%), Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities (4.7%), Educational Services (3.3%), Health Care (2.8%), Real Estate (2.6%), Mining and Logging (2.2%), and Finance & Insurance (2.0%) sectors experienced the largest job gains in percentage terms. While the Leisure and Hospitality (-1.9%), Other Services (-1.5%), Manufacturing (-1.3%), Wholesale Trade (-1.2%), Management (-1.0%), and Retail Trade (-0.7%) sectors had the largest percentage declines.
  • Within the state, job declines were led by Southern California. Los Angeles (MD) saw the biggest losses, where payrolls fell by 39,600 during the month. Orange County (-16,500), San Diego (-14,500), and the Inland Empire (-4,100) also shed jobs. Over the past year, El Centro (1.3%) saw the fastest job growth in Southern California, measured by percentage increase, followed by Ventura (0.9%), the Inland Empire (0.9%), Los Angeles (MD) (0.8%), and San Diego (0.8%).
  • In the Bay Area, San Francisco (MD) experienced the largest declines with payrolls falling by 13,700 positions in March. San Jose (-8,400), the East Bay (-3,300), and San Rafael (MD) (-1,400) also saw payrolls decline during the month. Over the past year, Napa (2.4%) enjoyed the fastest job growth rate in the region, followed by San Francisco (MD)  (1.6%), Santa Rosa (1.4%), and Vallejo (0.9%). Note that the Bay Area has seen larger relative declines because it began containment measures prior to other parts of the state.
  • In the Central Valley, Sacramento experienced the largest monthly declines, where payrolls fell by 3,400 positions. Payrolls in Modesto (-500), Fresno (-500), Bakersfield (-500), and Redding (-300) declined as well. Over the past 12 months, Yuba (8.3%) has enjoyed the fastest growth in percentage terms, followed by Madera (2.8%), Bakersfield (2.3%), Visalia (1.9%), Fresno (1.8%), Stockton, (1.6%), and Modesto (1.9%).
  • On the Central Coast, Santa Barbara shed the largest number of jobs, with payrolls declining by 700 positions over the month. Payrolls in Santa Cruz (-600) and Salinas (-400) also declined during the month. From March 2019 to March 2020, San Luis Obispo (2.3%) added jobs at the fastest rate, followed by Santa Cruz (1.8%), Salinas (1.2%), and Santa Barbara (0.9%).


Beacon Economics is an independent economic research and consulting firm based in Los Angeles. The UCR School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development is the first world class university forecasting center in the Inland Empire. This analysis was authored by Christopher ThornbergTaner Osman, and Brian Vanderplas. Learn more at and

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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