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Bay Area powers to big job gains in February, led by South Bay



COVID economy: Bay Area powers to big job gains in February, led by South Bay
By GEORGE AVALOS | gavalos@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group PUBLISHED: March 26, 2021 at 8:25 a.m. | UPDATED: March 30, 2021 at 5:20 p.m.

Led by a huge employment surge in Santa Clara County, the Bay Area powered to big job gains during February, an upswing that offers hope the region is poised to rebound from coronavirus-linked business shutdowns and massive layoffs.

The nine-county region in February posted its largest monthly gain in jobs since August, with the bulk of the increase coming in the especially hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector. Experts say this could indicate that the slow easing of government restrictions may be allowing more businesses to open their operations and hire workers.

“I think we’re seeing the actual light at the end of the tunnel here,” said Patrick Kallerman, research director with the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute. “The fundamentals that made the Bay Area the hottest economy in the nation are all still here, for now.”

During February, the Bay Area added 16,700 jobs, which ended two months of job losses in December and January, according to a report released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

Santa Clara County gained 7,400 jobs, nearly half of the jobs added in the Bay Area in February, the report showed.

“Silicon Valley is poised to lead the Bay Area and the state once again,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. “Silicon Valley is on a good path now.”

The San Francisco-San Mateo region added 2,600 positions, while the East Bay added 1,600 jobs.

Marin County added 2,000 jobs, Sonoma County and Napa County each gained 1,200, and Solano County added 700 positions. Santa Cruz County had no change in its job totals in February. All of the numbers for the Bay Area were adjusted for seasonal variations.

“Most of the February gains, in the Bay Area and statewide, are in the hard-hit hospitality sector after state and local governments took initial steps to relax COVID restrictions in late January,” said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Stockton-based Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific.

The Bay Area leisure and hospitality sector was among the hardest hit by layoffs. Restaurants, hotels, drinking establishments and entertainment and arts centers lost 195,400 jobs over the one-year period that ended in February — a jaw-dropping 45% of all the jobs lost in the Bay Area over those 12 months.

California gained 141,000 jobs in February, which was the largest one-month gain in employment since last June, according to seasonally adjusted numbers released by the EDD.

“After a dark winter when the California labor market recovery stalled, February has brought significant hope to the state’s displaced workers,” said Taner Osman, research manager at Beacon Economics and the UC Riverside Center for Forecasting.

For the Bay Area’s three largest urban centers, the jobless rates all improved in February compared with January. In February, the South Bay unemployment rate was 5.5%, down from 5.9% the month before; the San Francisco-San Mateo region was at 5.8%, down from 6.3%; the East Bay was at 7.1%, down from 7.6%.

Still, the region has a long way to go to recover from the damage to the economy during the COVID-19 era: Over the one-year period that ended in February, the entire Bay Area lost 433,600 jobs. The San Francisco-San Mateo region shed 158,100 of those positions, the East Bay lost 116,900 jobs, and the South Bay lost 100,000 jobs.

The statewide jobless rate in February improved to 8.5%, down from 9% in January.

“February marks the lowest unemployment rate California has seen since the onset of the pandemic last year,” the state Labor Department and the governor’s office said in a prepared release on Friday.

The battered California economy remains far removed from its glory days of early last year. In February 2020, the month before coronavirus-linked business lockdowns began, the statewide unemployment rate was 3.9%.

Some measuring sticks point to ongoing weakness in the employment sector statewide, said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney with Duane Morris and a former director of the EDD.

California unemployment claims remain elevated, Bernick noted. Bernick also cited statistics posted at the tracktherecovery.org website that shows small-business openings are in a slump, small-business revenues remain feeble, and job openings aren’t plentiful.

“How sustainable is this employment growth? The monthly job numbers are not consistent with the other main employment indicators for California released in the past two weeks,” Bernick said.

And the leisure and hospitality sector has a long way to go before it can recover from its job losses.

“It will take some time for restaurants to recover, for tourism to rebound, and for small businesses to pick up the pieces,” Kallerman said.

Leisure and hospitality employers during February added 5,000 jobs in the South Bay, 3,400 in the San Francisco-San Mateo region, and 1,400 jobs in the East Bay, figures provided by Beacon Economics show. Hotels and restaurants, which are part of this category, added 2,700 jobs in the South Bay, 3,100 in San Francisco-San Mateo, and 1,200 in the East Bay.

In February, retailers added 1,100 jobs in the San Francisco-San Mateo region, 900 jobs in the East Bay, and 600 in the South Bay.

Some experts believe the robust February job gains suggest a significant hiring upswing is on tap for the Bay Area. That could occur as businesses are allowed to operate in COVID-linked tiers with fewer restrictions.

“Job growth should accelerate in March and April with the Bay Area moving to the orange tier,” Levy said.

Full Article By George Avalos: https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/03/26/bay-area-powers-big-job-gains-february-south-bay-tech-economy-covid/