Four out of five parents in Santa Barbara County had to either alter or reduce their work schedule or leave their job to care for and help educate their children during the pandemic.
Forty percent fewer businesses are open.
And lower-paying industry clusters have suffered an “economic earthquake.”
That’s according to one of the first local COVID-19 impact reports.
Those findings, among many others, were shared at the Regional Economic Action Coalition of the Central Coast’s webinar Wednesday morning to update county leaders and Workforce Development Boards in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The data is used to drive decisions and allocate federal funding.
REACH released reports on the economic impact and recovery outlook for the Central Coast in general and Santa Barbara County in particular. The research was produced using data from a range of public and proprietary sources, according to the report.
Most statistics were reported as of February 2021.
Some of the key findings from the impact on the Central Coast were that: As of early February 2021, 40% fewer businesses were open on the Central Coast than in early March 2020; the industry clusters with the lowest-average wages are also the clusters that have been hit the hardest economically; and lowest-earning workers made up most of COVID-related job losses.
In Santa Barbara County, key findings included that higher-paying industry clusters in the county experienced a minor recession through the pandemic, while lower-paying industry clusters went through an “economic earthquake.”
Other findings were: Impacts of disruption to schools and childcare are substantial and are continuing to affect the county’s economy; the county’s high costs of living drive the greatest hiring challenges that nonprofit organizations face.
And, according to REACH, despite the dawning of an economic recovery, most households have moderate to negative outlooks on the immediate future and a more negative outlook for the next generation.
Josh Williams, the president and principal researcher of BW Research, gave a presentation on the data, key challenges facing the region and potential paths to economic recovery.
“Business revenues in both California and the Central Coast were almost one-third lower than they were in March of 2020,” Mr. Williams said at the webinar, which gained more than 350 attendees. “We’re starting to see recovery in some early March data, but the Southern Coast is a little bit lower in terms of business revenue.”
He talked at length about the fact that the higher-earning industries in the county — such as information, communication, technology, finance, insurance, real estate, biotechnology and more — experienced little to no impact from the pandemic, yet the lower-earning industry clusters such as tourism, hospitality, recreation, retail and others saw the most severe impacts.
However, more than half of the jobs on the Central Coast qualify as lower-wage positions, earning between $27,000 to $30,000 a year. The tourism, hospitality and recreation sector alone saw over a 50% decline in revenue.
“(This is) particularly challenging, given the Central Coast does have a higher cost of living which tends to be higher than the rest of the state,” Mr. Williams said. “The people who are least able to afford a loss of employment and least able to afford living on the Central Coast have lost their jobs.”
He also pointed out the impact the pandemic had on child care.
A graph in the report showed that, in a survey taken by residents of the Central Coast, at least 81% of adults had to either alter their work schedule, reduce their work schedule or leave their job to take care of their child or children.
And, more than half of those adults reported that the supervising adult’s work schedule or ability to work is still being affected.
Furthermore, REACH’s data showed that slightly more than one in five households on the Central Coast do not have access to the internet at home, which Mr. Williams said is a “real challenge” and “one of the equity issues we’re looking at in terms of this post-pandemic economy.”
Another notable statistic is derived from the survey responses from adults who were asked about job opportunities over the next three to five years, for both themselves and their children or the next generation. When answering for themselves, 20% of adults answered that job opportunities will get better; 42% said they will stay the same; and 25% said they will get worse.
When answering for their children or the next generation, 21% of adults said job opportunities would improve; 21% said they’d stay the same; and 41% said the job market will only get worse.
“Santa Barbara County residents get considerably more pessimistic — two-fifths think (the job market is) going to get worse generationally,” Mr. Williams said. “Particularly older residents feel this way.”
Overall, he said the key challenges facing the Central Coast right now include the following: “Uneven impacts of the pandemic have catalyzed challenges to the working poor, while having little to no impact on wealthier residents and industries; high costs and low supply of housing and childcare continue to hinder ability to attract qualified workers and support a faster recovery; and a high proportion of Central Coast business, particularly small businesses, were impacted by social distancing requirements, and are still trying to reopen and/or recover.”
Mr. Williams’ potential solutions were to continue supporting entrepreneurs and business expansion, improve opportunities for remote work and satellite offices, convert unused or surplus office space into residential space, and develop industry specific strategies.
Bruce Katz, the author of “The New Localism,” a book addressing the world’s challenges in cities and metropolitan areas, and the director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University, also advised local leaders on how to harness and leverage the funds coming from the federal government.
“This last year has been difficult. It’s been unprecedented … Taxing the health care system, restrictions on economic and personal freedoms — there’s no wonder one of the findings in the report was that, despite the dawning of economic recovery, most households have a moderate to negative for the near future and more negative for the long-term,” said Bob Nelson, chair of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
“We know free money isn’t free, that (we’re passing) this debt onto the next generation,” Mr. Nelson said.
Raymond MacDonald, the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Workforce Development Board, reassured viewers that the board will advocate for the local workforce system.
“With the results from these studies and research, we hope to move forward under a set of guiding principles that will help us serve the business community as well as the numerous workers whose lives have been severely upended as a result of this virus,” he said. “We are very, very concerned about duplication of efforts and the inability of folks to actually get services, so that means things like resource mapping and making sure no area of our county is left out of getting the services that are needed.”