On the same day that the December jobs report revealed that the U.S. lost an unexpected 85,000 jobs in December, Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, concluded a week-long tour through the Tri-Counties to gauge the impacts of the federal economic recovery effort.
“We’re still feeling the effects [of the recession], but we’re well past where we were a year ago, when we were in freefall,” Capps said Jan. 8 at an economic roundtable event concluding the tour.
Throughout the week, she met with local government officials and businesses throughout the region, including Citrix Systems in Goleta, and C’est Cheese, a small cheese deli in downtown Santa Barbara.
Capps said the latest unemployment figures are a setback — “we’re back to where we were” — but that the $787 billion federal stimulus is working to bring private-sector jobs to the region.
Steve Cushman, president and executive director of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, joined Capps on her tour. He said that while the December national jobs report is discouraging, he is primarily concerned with local employment data.
“I only care about the local numbers,” Cushman said. “It’s very tough in the Tri-Counties right now.”
November unemployment figures showed that the region is fairing better than much of California, despite a large public sector. Santa Barbara County’s unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in November, San Luis Obispo County’s was 9.3 percent and Ventura County had 11.1 percent unemployment.
But Cushman said that one of his biggest concerns is that business payrolls may struggle to get back to previous levels. “Businesses have learned to operate more efficiently. That means that hiring may not happen for quite some time,” he said.
Other roundtable participants worried the recession may mean a mass exodus from the region. As more people struggle to find employment, fewer can afford to live in the pricey area and may leave permanently.
“I think that overall, the labor force is downsizing,” said Karen Dwyer, owner of Santa Barbara-based staffing company Express Employment Professionals. The overlap of people who are unemployed with the available jobs they qualify for is getting slimmer, she said.
Business margins are going down, Dwyer said, and small companies in particular are hurting for capital.
Cushman agreed. “For small businesses in particular, it’s very hard to get credit.” If there’s anything the federal government can do to help, it’s to stimulate local banks to lend, he said.