San Diego’s Data Bites: March 2021

Same intel, new great ‘taste’

EDC is excited to unveil a fresh take on our long-standing Economic Pulse. Welcome to San Diego’s Data Bites!

Each month the California Employment Development Department (EDD) releases employment data for the prior month. This edition of San Diego’s Economic Pulse—now ‘Data Bites’—covers January 2021 and reflects the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the labor market as well as benchmark revisions to 2020 employment data. Check out EDC’s Research Bureau for more data and stats about San Diego’s economy.

Key Takeaways

  1. San Diego employers eliminated 38,600 payroll jobs at the start of the year. Job losses in January are typical as temporary holiday staff is let go, but December’s report showed no surge in holiday hiring in 2020.
  1. Job losses nudged the unemployment rate higher to 8.1 percent from December’s 8.0 percent even as nearly 18,000 workers fled the labor force.
  1. Annual benchmark revisions to 2020 employment data revealed that the economy suffered steeper job losses last Spring and ended 2020 with roughly 30,000 fewer jobs than were initially reported.

San Diego’s labor market kicked off 2021 on a sour note. Local employers eliminated 38,600 payroll jobs in January, nudging the unemployment rate higher to 8.1 percent from 8.0 percent in December even as nearly 18,000 workers fled the labor force.

Job losses are typical in January as businesses roll off temporary holiday help. However, what makes this report unique is that January’s job losses followed a decline of 6,200 positions in December (revised from an initially reported -5,300 jobs), which is extremely atypical for the holiday season. In fact, December’s decline marks only the sixth time in 72 years where employers have let more workers go than they hired.

January’s dismal jobs report likely reflects the struggles of local businesses amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic rather than seasonal factors. Burning Glass estimates that San Diego consumer spending is still trending about 10 percent lower than it was before the pandemic, and data from Womply show that roughly 30 percent to 40 percent—or between 30,000 and 40,000—local businesses have been forced to close over the past year.

Industry view

Employment declines were widespread across industries. With the exception of Manufacturing and Utilities—which added a meager 100 jobs apiece—every industry either lost jobs or stayed flat. Hardest hit was Leisure and Hospitality, which gave up 12,200 positions and continues to be the most negatively impacted by the pandemic. Retail, which shed 6,300 jobs, was a distant second, erasing nearly all of the gains made since Spring 2020. The decline in Retail, although disheartening, was somewhat expected, however, since national retail sales and local consumer spending have both remained weak in recent months.

The nearly ubiquitous loss of employment across industries is another indication that labor market weakness in January stems from COVID-related measures rather than seasonality. In a typical year, January job losses would be focused around Leisure, Hospitality, and Retail as holiday staff is let go. However, in more normal times, most other industries have remained stable instead of laying off workers like they did this year.

2020 was even worse than we thought

Also included in January’s jobs report were benchmark revisions to the 2020 employment figures. Typically, in periods of contraction, employment revisions are negative, and that is exactly what EDD reported.

Benchmark revisions revealed that San Diego hemorrhaged 248,000 jobs between February and April 2020, which is 25,000 more job losses than initially reported. Leisure, Hospitality, and Retail accounted for around 16,000 of those additional losses. By the end of the year, revisions showed 30,100 fewer nonfarm payroll jobs in the region compared to the initial estimates.

The additional loss of jobs also meant that the unemployment rate was revised higher. Initial estimates showed the rate peaking at 15.2 percent in April 2020; revised data revealed that joblessness peaked at a significantly higher 15.9 percent, which is more in line with EDC’s estimates at the time.

You can use the below graphic to explore how revisions impacted total employment in the region, as well as each of the industries tracked by EDD on a monthly basis.

The road ahead

San Diego’s job market is entering 2021 on a weaker footing than initially thought. More jobs need to be recouped, and there are fewer businesses to help carry that weight. Together, this implies that the recovery will take longer than anticipated even after San Diegans have been vaccinated against the novel Coronavirus.

Still, there are actions we can take to help speed things along and emerge even stronger than before. Now, more than ever, it is necessary that we get this recovery right.

Training and upskilling will be vital for the thousands of workers whose jobs may never return. EDC’s Advancing San Diego program is working to do just that.

It will also be imperative that San Diego small businesses are connected to large buyers in order to keep remaining businesses in the region healthy and to help spur a new wave of entrepreneurship to meet the needs of San Diego’s largest institutions and employers. EDC’s Anchor Collaborative is working with large local businesses to help ensure big companies “shop local” for their procurement needs. Our research estimates that a one percent shift in procurement spending by large companies to local businesses could create thousands of new jobs in the region.

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