Local officials say no change for county
The U.S. unemployment rate is on a slow downward trend, but local officials say the jobless rate in Santa Barbara County will likely remain high until the coronavirus is better contained.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a January jobs report Friday, putting the current unemployment rate in the U.S. at 6.3%, down 0.4 percentage point since December. More than 10 million people remain unemployed in the U.S., according to the report.
Santa Barbara County’s unemployment numbers in December sat almost a full percentage point higher than the year-end national average (6.7%) at 7.6%. Following a spike in April 2020 with unemployment at 13.9%, the county saw unemployment rates steadily drop until December’s lockdown boosted the rate back up to 7.6%.
“We continue to experience high levels of unemployment, and that’s not going to change any time soon until the vaccinations have been more widespread, businesses start to open up again and social distancing starts to relax,” Ray McDonald, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Workforce Development Board, told the News-Press Friday. “Those things have to happen first, and then we can start to attack the unemployment situation.”
The bureau’s report noted the addition of 49,000 jobs in January, a number Mr. McDonald called “concerning” and much lower than typical totals that peak well over 100,000. Other data in the report included a slight increase in the employment rate and a decrease in the labor force, or the number of people actively searching for jobs.
Unemployment rates in Santa Barbara County varied widely in December, according to a report from the California Employment Development Department. In December, the city of Santa Barbara recorded an unemployment rate of 5.9%, Solvang recorded an unemployment rate of 4.5%, Santa Maria reported a rate of 11.2% and Lompoc recorded 10.3%.
To combat high unemployment rates, local chamber of commerce officials are looking for ways to boost business recovery. On Thursday, the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce released its “Roadmap to Recovery,” a plan with ambitious goals to fuel an economic comeback in the region.
The plan recommends all businesses adopt a five-step method for safe operation, which includes enforcing mask wearing, promoting social distancing, installing plexiglass barriers, sanitizing often and maintaining proper ventilation. In addition, the plan includes an ambitious timeline for vaccinations, school reopenings and small gatherings.
“The job report that was released on Friday (by the Bureau) is indicative of a need to get the economy back on track,” Kristen Miller, CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement Friday to the News-Press.“That is exactly what our Roadmap to Recovery supports. Current regulations are creating a large socioeconomic disparity in the region.”
Members of the South Coast Chamber are hopeful to add jobs within the next 60 days and have all businesses up and running with COVID-19 guidelines in place by March 31.
“We need to safely allow businesses to operate so that all workers — delivery drivers, small business owners, hospitality staff, parents who have to divide their time between working from home and teaching their students — can safely get back to work and help our economy recover,” Ms. Miller said in a statement.
In the months to come, other chamber officials are hopeful California’s vaccine rollout will boost recovery and bring life back to a level of pre-pandemic normalcy.
“Come summer, hopefully everyone is vaccinated, and we can be past the yellow tier (of restrictions) and back to some kind of normalcy,” Tracy Lavery Beard, head of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, told the News-Press.
To gain a better picture of the pandemic’s effect on employment, the Workforce Development Board plans to partner with the Santa Barbara Foundation to study the impact of the pandemic on businesses from March through December 2020. The report is set to release early spring.
Moving forward, economists are expecting unemployment numbers to continue to trend downward as businesses reopen.
“Now that we’ve opened up a little more, for the next couple months, I think (unemployment) is going to improve, there’s no doubt about it,” Dr. Peter Rupert, executive director of USCB’s Economic Forecast Project, told the News-Press. “But what happened last time is we saw a spike in cases and deaths, so you do kind of have to worry about that as well … We’re not fully vaccinated, so we do have to expect some more cases in my view.”