San Diego’s labor market scored a solid win in February as companies added workers to their payrolls and the jobless rate fell. This followed two months of disappointing performance and suggests that the region will now continue to move forward.
San Diego’s unemployment rate dropped sharply from January’s 8.1% to 7.2% in February. The seasonally adjusted numbers showed an almost identical read, falling from 8.0% to 7.2%. The jobless rate decline was particularly impressive as it took place even as more people entered the work force.
Nonfarm employers in San Diego County added nearly 32,000 (31,900) jobs in February following declines in each of the prior two months. Although some of the gain was typical during this time of the year, even the seasonally adjusted gain was an impressive 27,000.
Phil Blair, Executive Officer of Manpower West, notes that job gains could be even higher if workers were available for various positions. “The quandary in this high unemployment market is the thousands of jobs that are sitting unfilled, hampering San Diego’s economic growth. How do you entice experienced workers to go back to work when, due to federal subsidies, unemployment benefits pay more than many jobs?”
San Diego Workforce Partnership’s Senior Economist, Daniel Enemark, observed, “We continue to see growth in manufacturing and clean energy and have worked with local employers to relax requirements for applicants who have previous experience. As a result, our job portal has permanent, full-time positions that pay a living wage at the entry level ($18) and are open to workers new to these sectors.”
Lynn Reaser, Chief Economist for Point Loma Nazarene University, was pleased to see the widespread nature of February’s job gains. “The nearly 13,000 jump in leisure and hospitality positions was an especially welcome relief as this sector has seen so many of its doors closed.” Restaurant hiring represented the bulk of the gain, with an advance of about 11,500 jobs.
San Diego still has a long road to go before returning to its pre-pandemic job levels. As of February, payroll counts were down 8.7% from their pre-pandemic levels of a year ago. The region still lags the nation (down 6.2%), but ahead of California (9.4%).
The region continues to show the inequity in industry performance. Some industries are close to full recovery. Both construction and utilities have already exceeded their year-ago levels. At the other end, despite February’s bounce, leisure and hospitality payrolls are only two-thirds their pre-pandemic totals.
“The bright news is that the months ahead should show more job gains and falling unemployment,” observed Reaser. “As vaccination rates increase, more business are allowed to reopen, and federal dollars flow into the region, the economic recovery should increasing gain momentum.”