Unemployment numbers see dip in county, but still long road ahead
Dr. Peter Rupert had some simple advice for those trying to see the economic impact of COVID-19.
“Don’t believe anyone,” chuckled Dr. Rupert, who serves as the executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project.
“It’s just hard to really understand what’s going on and the reason basically is, of course, we’re in completely uncharted economic territory.”
Dr. Rupert held his fifth EFP webinar on Thursday and was joined by Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease expert at Cottage Health, and Nancy Anderson, the assistant CEO for Santa Barbara County.
Dr. Rupert focused specifically on the economy, both at the country level and a local level, in Santa Barbara.
The first thing he discussed was in regards to the unemployment filings throughout the country. He noted that one key metric people need to pay attention to is data with seasonally adjusted numbers and data without.
Seasonally adjusted unemployment numbers attempt to measure and remove the influences of predictable seasonal patterns to reveal how employment and unemployment change from month to month.
For example, Dr. Rupert said, during summer when school is out and more people are applying for jobs, unemployment is typically lower. Unemployment typically rises in January and February.
Seasonally adjusted data is the data shared by the U.S. Government, according to Dr. Rupert, “because they want you to know, in normal times, what’s happening.”
What the seasonally adjusted data showed was that the unemployment rates rose in the weeks of July 18 and July 25, prompting many people to “assume about a stall in the labor market.” That belief also led to a dip in the stock market.
Dr. Rupert countered with the raw numbers from the past few weeks which actually show that since July 11, unemployment claims have actually been falling.
“If you had just looked at this, not seasonally adjusted data, which for this environment, (we should be because) we’re not in normal times so we can’t adjust seasonally in a normal way, we actually should they should have been saying, ‘wow, the economy is continuing to fall,’ (since July 11) and it’s been declining ever since,” Dr. Rupert said.
Santa Barbara County specifically has seen a slight rise in employment. Before the pandemic, 190,000 employees were employed in the county, which dropped to 160,000 due to COVID-19.
Since that drop, however, we have seen a rise, but Dr. Rupert said, “but we’re really, really not out of the woods.”
Unemployment in the county was the lowest it had ever been at the start of 2020 in a “long time,” according to Dr. Rupert.
With the arrival of COVID-19, at its height, 29,000 people applied for unemployment in the county. That number has since dipped to just about 25,000.
“Remember, typically what we see is something like 6,7, 8,000 people unemployed so we have more than tripled the number of people who are still unemployed in Santa Barbara County,” Dr. Rupert said.
“And it’s something we have to fight through and work through (by) getting federal help and state help.
“As I said, we’re not out of the woods, and it’s not clear yet what’s going to be happening over the next several weeks and months so in summary… we’re in very uncharted territory unfortunately.”