As the pandemic slowly fades and the economy reopens, some Santa Barbara County business sectors are still suffering from job losses, while others have recovered to employment that exceed their prepandemic levels, according to a report to the Board of Supervisors last week.

The statistics were included in a report on the Workforce Development Board’s mission, funding and efforts to help workers and businesses recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employment has also become a job-seeker’s market, as people leaving the workforce are also leaving businesses scrambling to fill positions, according to the report delivered by Ray McDonald, executive director of the Workforce Development Board of Santa Barbara County.

Businesses hurting for workers are offering bonuses and other incentives to acquire employees, while people looking for work are paying more attention to their work-life balance and, at the same time, looking for the best deals, McDonald said.

“What’s happening is a lot of folks are making adjustments in their lives,” McDonald said. “Women are not coming back the way they were prepandemic. … What we also know is people are being very picky.”

Statistics on business sector employment provided by McDonald were from January 2019 through July 2021, as data for August and September have yet to be compiled and analyzed.

But the records for overall unemployment and labor force participation extend back to January 2016, while the consumer spending numbers start with January 2020.

Still, they offer a good snapshot of how the county economy is performing compared to that of the state as a whole.

McDonald said the overall unemployment rate dropped to 5.8% in July, and recently released numbers for August show the rate at 5.5%, about the same as the rate in January 2016.

“So the number is going down,” McDonald said, pointing out it’s considerably lower than the 15% spike at the height of the pandemic in April 2020.

The labor force participation rate — that is, the percentage of the working-age population actually in the workforce — is the highest it’s been since January 2016 at 62%, but McDonald noted that it has far more peaks and valleys than the state rate, which he attributed to the large number of people who retire to the county.

Board Chairman and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson pointed out the valleys fall from November to January each year.

“We are an agricultural community,” he noted.

Outlining the pandemic’s impact on various business sectors, McDonald said employment is down 1.9% for trade, transportation and utilities and down 6.3% for manufacturing, although construction employment is up about 1.1%.

For reference, McDonald also included offshore oil and drilling, where employment is down 36.4% from March 2019, but said employment in that sector was decreasing significantly even before the pandemic.

Employment in educational and health services is up 1.1%, but in financial activities it’s down 3%. Information technology employment has returned to its prepandemic level “because they can do that work from anywhere,” McDonald said.

Leisure and hospitality took a huge hit during the pandemic, with more than 45% of jobs lost at the peak, and employment is still 14.3% below prepandemic levels.

But government, which McDonald said also includes educational institutions, has also not fared well, with employment gradually falling to 22% from before the pandemic.

On the positive side, employment in professional and business services is up 24.1%, which McDonald said is due to consumers’ increasing use of delivery services while confined to their homes.

Another encouraging note is that consumer spending in the county has rebounded to higher than it was prior to the pandemic.

In April 2020, spending dropped by nearly 40% from the average of the previous three months, but now it has climbed 7.5% higher than that average.

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