San Diego’s Economic Pulse: December 2020

Each month the California Employment Development Department (EDD) releases employment data for the prior month. This edition of San Diego’s Economic Pulse covers November 2020 and reflects some effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the labor market. Check out EDC’s research bureau for more data and stats about San Diego’s economy.

Key Takeaways

  1. Unemployment falls to 6.6 percent.
  1. San Diego retailers gear up for holiday season by hiring 1,800 employees, but sales continue to suffer.
  1. Shop local this holiday season and wear a mask.

Labor Market Overview

The region’s unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in November, down from a revised 7.5 percent in October 2020, and still more than twice the year-ago estimate of 2.9 percent. Unemployment continues to increase in San Diego’s unincorporated and poorer areas, while falling in wealthier areas. The highest unemployment area in the region was Bostonia at 12.4 percent followed by National City at 10.3 percent, and the lowest was Solana Beach at 3.6 percent.

The region’s unemployment rate remains lower than California’s unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, but slightly higher than the national rate of 6.4 percent. While unemployment continues to fall, much of the improvement can be attributed to government support. In fact, unemployment claims increased again this week showing as emergency aid has dried up—proof the local job market could once again backtrack in the coming months.

Total nonfarm employment increased by 14,300 in November. Trade, transportation, and utilities accounted for the largest monthly gains, adding 8,200 jobs last month, primarily concentrated in retail trade (up 1,800 jobs). Even so, compared to a year ago, retail trade is still down 6,200 jobs. Professional and business services followed with an increase of 2,800 jobs. Job gains were driven by administrative and support services, which added 1,800 jobs. Food services and drinking places continue to struggle, shedding 1,000 jobs last month, even before the mandatory closures that took place in December.

Compared to a year ago, San Diego nonfarm employment remains down 97,700 jobs, or 6.4 percent. Leisure and hospitality represent the largest share, down 35,300 jobs. Accommodation is down 12,900 jobs over the year, and food services and drinking places are down 22,400.

Retail Sales Decline

November marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season as shown by an increase in retail employment in San Diego. However, nationwide retail sales numbers were gloomy. Retail sales were down 1.1 percent from October (seasonally adjusted), which was much worse than expected and likely impacted by increased COVID-19 infections and decreasing household income as expanded unemployment benefits expired. Without a stimulus relief package from Congress, retail sales declines will likely continue and perhaps become severe as millions lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas.

Department store sales in the U.S. declined by 19 percent since this time last year and 7.7 percent since last month. Clothing and clothing accessories stores declined by 16.1 percent since last year and 6.8 percent since last month. Food service and drinking place stores declined by nearly one percent since last year and 4 percent since last month due to mandatory stay at home closures.

November’s retail sales were the worst since April, adding to the already growing list of signs that a slowdown in the recovery could be imminent. As San Diego’s retailers hire more employees for the holiday season, the call to shop local and safely becomes more necessary, especially given what appears to be a slowdown in consumer spending. Small businesses drive San Diego’s economy and create thriving neighborhoods. Check out some local favorites around the County.


For more COVID-19 recovery resources and information, please visit this page.

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