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California’s job market looks weak, no matter how you count it

No matter how you slice the data, California’s job market looks weak in the pandemic era.

Only two states suffered bigger jumps in unemployment in the past year, and just 12 states lost more job opportunities since COVID-19 clobbered the economy. Rising joblessness and lost recruitment opportunities place metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles-Orange County among the nation’s most frozen employment markets.

Contributors to the sour employment scene include coronavirus fears, falling consumer confidence, California’s much-debated strict business limitations to slow the pandemic’s spread, and the state’s collapsed tourism industry.

My trusty spreadsheet first looked at unemployment data, comparing September’s rate with that from a year earlier. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show California’s 7.1 percentage-point increase in joblessness over 12 months was the nation’s third-largest jump. The state’s 11% rate for September — the nation’s No. 3 highest — was vastly higher than its 3.9% jobless rate a year ago when California’s joblessness ranked it 12th highest.

Can you still remember when the state and national economies were doing well?

The nation’s biggest jump in job losses is telling, too. Tourism-heavy Hawaii saw a 12.4 percentage-point increase to 15.1% in September. Who had the smallest increase? Nebraska with a 0.5 percentage-point rise to 3.5% in September.

Next, I pondered online “help wanted” ads. These can be an early indicator of employment trends because — thanks to data crunchers at — we have relatively real-time weekly data. Basically, those job postings tell us what bosses need.

Statewide, postings in the week ended Oct. 23 were down 18% from a year ago, the 14th largest reduction among the states. Back on Feb. 6, a benchmark for the pre-pandemic conditions, California job postings were flat in a year — ranking No. 30 nationally. That adds up to an 18 percentage-point decline, a dip exceeded by just a dozen states.

Hawaii, again, had the biggest drop — down 43% from a year ago. Best? Rhode Island, up 1% from a year ago.

Do not forget that California’s stiff business limits have kept the state at below-average pandemic health impacts as measured against the Golden State’s 40 million residents. The state ranks 16th lowest for coronavirus cases per-capita and 21st for deaths.

Still, the economic costs have been high. Let’s ponder the impact in the state’s large metropolitan areas.

L.A.-Orange County

The economic punch pushed joblessness in Los Angeles and Orange counties up 9.7 percentage points in the year ended in September. Of large U.S. metros ranked, only Las Vegas — another tourism-heavy region — had a larger increase: a 10.9 percentage-point increase to 14.8% in September.

September’s 13.6% rate for L.A.-O.C. was the nation’s third highest. A year earlier, the L.A.-O.C. region’s unemployment was 3.9% — but still, that was topped by only six states.

Job postings in L.A.-O.C. struggle, too, down 20% from a year ago — 12th worst among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas tracked. February’s postings were down just 0.2% — 13th worst nationally. The 19.8 percentage-point decline from pre-pandemic levels also ranked 13th-worst among the metros.

San Francisco

Job hunters take notice: The San Francisco region has the nation’s weakest market for employment, according to job posting data.

Postings are down 31.7% from a year ago — the biggest drop of the big metros. February wasn’t so hot either, as postings were down 0.5% in a year — eighth-worst nationally. And the 31.2 percentage-point drop since February was the largest decline among the metros.

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San Francisco unemployment surged 6.3 percentage point over 12 months, the ninth-biggest leap among the metros. The 8.6% unemployment rate for September — the nation’s No. 17 highest — vs. 2.3% jobless rate a year earlier, tied for fourth-lowest among the big metros.

San Jose

The chances of getting a new paycheck aren’t much better to the south of the bay.

The San Jose region’s job posting count is off 30.9% from a year ago, the third-worst decline of big metros. Back in February, postings were down 0.1% — No. 35 nationally. That adds up to a 30.8 percentage-point drop — a fall exceeded only by San Francisco.

Relatively speaking, San Jose’s unemployment picture looks OK. It’s 4.8 percentage-point increase in the past year was 17th highest among the metros tracked. September’s 7.1% rate was a mid-range No. 26 ranking. But a year ago, its 2.3% jobless rate tied for fourth-lowest among the big metros.

Inland Empire

The state’s opportunity anomaly is found in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, arguably the nation’s hottest job-search markets.

Inland Empire job postings were up 8.3% from a year ago. In a year where a virus decimated the U.S. economy, the Inland Empire is the only region with increased employment opportunities among the big U.S. metropolitan areas tracked.

Compare that with February when Inland Empire postings were up only 0.1% year-over-year — ranking No. 31 nationally. The 8.2 percentage-point improvement was also tops among the metros.

How? This Southern California community’s giant logistics industry has seen heavy demand for workers to handle warehousing and deliveries for fast-growing online shopping businesses.

As for unemployment, the Inland Empire doesn’t look as good. Its joblessness saw a 6.6 percentage-point increase over 12 months, the eight-biggest U.S. increase. September’s 10.4% rate — the nation’s fourth-highest — compared to the year ago’s 3.8%, when the region had the 10th highest unemployment among the big metros.

By the way, the smallest one-year jobless jump in big metros was seen in Louisville, Ky., up just 1.9 percentage points to 5.3% in September.

Source: Orange County Register

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