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San Diego Lags Behind State And Country In Job Recovery

In this June 9, 2021, file photo, a sign announces that a Goodwill store is o...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: In this June 9, 2021, file photo, a sign announces that a Goodwill store is open amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Santa Monica, Calif.

San Diego County's labor market has lagged behind the rest of the state and nation, even with the loosening of pandemic restrictions, according to a report released Monday.

Though the region added 2,000 jobs in May, mostly in the leisure and hospitality industries, overall nonfarm employment in San Diego County was "essentially flat," according to the report from the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Manpower West and Point Loma Nazarene University.

Listen to this story by Jacob Aere

The report is based on employment data collected while San Diego County was in the orange tier of the state's reopening system.

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As of May, San Diego jobs were at about 92% of their pre-pandemic high from February of 2020, while California's recovery was at 93% and the U.S. as a whole was at 95%, according to the report.

"Two constraints faced San Diego businesses in May," according to Lynn Reaser, from the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at PLNU. "Many were not allowed to fully reopen and even more could not find employees. Filling job openings will now be San Diego's major challenge in the months ahead."

Reported by Jacob Aere , Video by Guillermo Sevilla

She said some hospitality and leisure workers may not be coming back any time soon.

“Many of the hotels and restaurants at points of time were allowed to reopen. Then they had to shut down. Then they were allowed to reopen, then they had to go outdoors, so a lot of workers said ‘Hey, I’m going to look at something else to do here.’”

Different industries are recovering at varying paces, with construction and utility jobs back to their pre-pandemic highs, while leisure and hospitality employment are only at 76% of that level.

Despite the slow recovery, San Diego's unemployment rate fell in May and officials say jobs are available, especially in industries that struggled to find employees during the pandemic.

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Daniel Enemark, senior economist for the San Diego Workforce Partnership, said leisure and hospitality jobs "remain understaffed, with accommodations 11,000 workers short and food services and drinking places over 25,000 workers short of pre-pandemic employment."

Enemark said those seeking work should look to those sectors, as they "are urgently seeking workers, with many employers offering higher wages, providing more flexible schedules, and requiring less or even no experience."

Employers are so desperate Enemark said they are looking for almost any person to fill a position.

“A lot of employers I’m talking to are saying, ‘Listen we will take anybody off the street and we will train them to do the work and pay them better than we’ve ever paid them before.’”

Enemark says, in fact, the pandemic has shifted business priorities and parts of the hospitality industry may never fully recover.

“Bars and restaurants, hotels continue to have dramatically lower employment than they had before the pandemic - and that’s not surprising. Because half of the workers in those sectors lost their jobs during the pandemic,” he said.

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Phil Blair, executive officer of Manpower West, concurred with that finding, saying, "Leisure and hospitality are begging for workers, as well as manufacturing."

Blair said San Diegans looking for work are in an opportunistic position.

"The pendulum has totally swung to the side of employees, as businesses across the board compete for workers," Blair said. "Employees are taking more time to consider their options and companies need to present a compelling case for their job opportunities."

According to Enemark, the monthly report of the region’s labor market will be the most accurate starting in August, as restrictions won’t play a factor in the job data.

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