- After an impressive October employment report, San Diego is set to end the year on a down note.
- Job growth in November is expected to slow, similar to the U.S., and fresh stay-at-home orders set the stage for a weak December and January.
- The string of weak employment expectations could delay a return to full employment from Spring 2021 to the Fall.
Given the way 2020 has unfolded to date, it’s only fitting that the year would end with a fizzle instead of a sizzle.
It looks like November’s jobs report for San Diego will serve up a slowdown similar to what was seen nationally. For the U.S., payroll job growth slowed substantially from 610,000 net jobs gained in October to a worse-than-expected 245,000 in November, on a seasonally adjusted basis. On a not-seasonally-adjusted basis, which is how the San Diego employment figures are delivered, U.S. job gains were cut by about two-thirds, from 1,587,000 in October to 517,000 in November. The fortunes of San Diego’s job market are tightly tethered to those of the nation’s, so we can expect a similar dynamic to play out here.
We won’t know for sure until the San Diego jobs numbers are officially released next Friday, December 18. But we can surmise some baseline conclusions based on the U.S. jobs numbers, California continuing claims for unemployment insurance, and recent stay-at-home orders issued by the state and county.
Based on the historical relationship between U.S. and local employment, it looks like San Diego gained anywhere between 7,500 and 8,000 jobs in November, down considerably from 21,500 the month prior. Moreover, some push and pull between industries will likely emerge.
The unemployment rate, which is calculated using a different survey than the one used to estimate nonfarm payrolls, appears poised to fall further despite the anticipated slowdown in payroll job growth. After falling 1.2 percentage points in October, from 8.9 percent to 7.7 percent, the rate could fall to around 7 percent in November. October’s employment report showed that a record 55,800 workers joined or rejoined the labor force, which has the effect of pushing the unemployment rate higher. So, if any of the mad rush back into the labor market was reversed last month, then the jobless rate could be shown to have fallen even as low as 6 to 6.5 percent.
SOFT END TO THE YEAR?
With the labor market slowing in November, it seems like a safe bet to assume a setback is in the cards for December, especially in light of the most recent COVID-19 shutdown orders. This certainly appeared to be the case in July when San Diego County reissued directives for non-essential businesses to halt or reduce operations as COVID infections surged and employment took a step back.
However, since San Diego’s job numbers are not adjusted for seasonality like the national figures, it’s important to realize that monthly employment patterns may reflect the seasonal ebb and flow of the job market. Looking back through history, San Diego has experienced July employment declines in 54 of the past 72 years that data are available, making it especially tough to tell if the dip this past summer was shutdown-related or simply a normal seasonal occurrence. In fact, the drop in July was just about average—slightly less so, actually—than those seen in most other years.
On the other side of the coin, employment has climbed in every December, except five, in the last 71 years as holiday hiring picked up. So, barring a double-dip recession in the region, the odds of any large-scale net job losses in December are slim. The more likely outcome is a slower-than-average job build if retailers and leisure businesses don’t bring on their usual volume of holiday staff—quite likely, given the fresh round of stay-at-home orders issued for the county.
MIXING THE INGREDIENTS TOGETHER
All in all, San Diego is looking at a string of underwhelming employment reports over the next several months. November will not repeat October’s healthy gains, and December could be flat to very modestly negative as holiday hiring is on pause amid COVID-induced shutdowns. January tends to show job losses as temporary holiday help is let go. However, if December holiday hiring is less robust than normal this year, then there will be fewer holiday workers exiting the payrolls in the beginning of next year. Nonetheless, most companies don’t tend to bring on many new hires in January, since interviewing and onboarding job candidates is usually interrupted by the holidays in November and December, setting the stage for a pretty weak month regardless.
It was recently mentioned that San Diego could return to full employment by April of next year if the average pace of hiring from April to October of this year was maintained. However, this is looking less and less likely, and a weak to flat November and December would put full employment closer to Fall 2021.
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