The tri-county region’s unemployment rate dropped more than a half a percentage point between January and February as the region began to emerge from the deadly winter surge of COVID-19 cases.
The region’s combined unemployment rate was 6.8% in February, according to Business Times analysis of data released March 26 by the California Employment Development Department. That’s below January’s 7.4%, and lower than any month of the pandemic except one: October 2020, when unemployment bottomed out in the region at 6%.
Santa Barbara County has begun to lag behind the rest of the region in its jobs recovery, with the highest unemployment rate of the three counties for three consecutive months. In February, Santa Barbara County’s unemployment rate was 7.1%, down from 7.7% in January.
Ventura County’s unemployment rate was 6.8% in February, down from 7.5% in December. And in San Luis Obispo County, the unemployment rate dropped from 6.7% in January to 6.3% in February.
All three counties have stronger job markets than the state as a whole. California’s unemployment rate in February was 8.5% in February, down from 9% in January, as employers in the state added a net gain of 141,000 jobs.
California’s civilian labor force also grew in February, adding 276,000 people to reach nearly 19 million, but it remained 488,500 workers below its pre-pandemic level in February 2020.
During the depths of the pandemic in December and January, with a new stay-home order and a new round of business closures, the state lost a total of 155,400 jobs. February’s gains reversed nearly 91% of that loss, the EDD said. The state has regained 39% of the 2.7 million nonfarm jobs list in March and April of 2020.
The strongest gains statewide were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 102,000 jobs in February as restaurants re-opened. The “other services” and educational and health services sectors also added jobs, while government lost 6,000 jobs, due mainly to reductions in federal jobs such as census and postal workers.