The unemployment rate in the tri-county region dropped nearly a full percentage point between August and September, to reach its lowest level since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The combined unemployment rate of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties was just under 5% in September, down from 5.9% in August, according to a Business Times analysis of data released Oct. 22 by the California Unemployment Development Department.
All three counties in the region showed dramatic improvement. Ventura County’s unemployment rate was 5.3% in September, down from 6.2% in August. In Santa Barbara County, the unemployment rate was 4.7% in September, down from 5.5% in August. And San Luis Obispo County had a 4.6% unemployment rate in September, down from 5.5% in August.
California’s unemployment rate was 7.5% in September, the same as the month before.
Though the tri-county region appears to be doing better than the state as a whole, some of that may be due to normal, seasonal fluctuations in the job market. The Employment Development Department’s statewide figures are seasonally adjusted, while its county-level data is not.
Peter Rupert, an economics professor at UC Santa Barbara and the director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, said unemployment rates typically fall in September because there are many jobs tied to the return of schools and colleges. Teachers and full-time staff are still considered employed when school is out of session in the summer, but part-time university lecturers, after-school day care providers and others might not be. Stores also staff up in anticipation of back-to-school shopping.
When Rupert applied a typical seasonality adjustment used by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics to Santa Barbara County’s numbers, the unemployment rate in September was 5.4%, compared to the unadjusted rate of 4.7%.
“It was a good report, there’s no doubt about that,” Rupert said. “Certainly the number of unemployed people fell, and that’s good. The only question is, how much does it usually fall this time of year?”
The tri-county region saw widespread job growth, with 11,600 more residents employed in September than in August, and a net gain of 3,800 non-farm jobs based in the region. Local job growth was especially strong in San Luis Obispo County, which had a net gain of 1,600 non-farm jobs. The fastest growing sectors in all three counties included leisure and hospitality, state and local government, and health and education.
California as a whole also gained jobs, though the state unemployment rate stayed the same because the workforce grew. The state added 47,400 non-farm jobs in September, which accounted for 24.4% of the nation’s new jobs that month, the EDD said. California has now regained 63.5% of the 2.7 million jobs it lost in March and April 2020.
The statewide job growth was driven by the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 23,300 jobs, as performing arts and spectator sports rebounded from the pandemic.
Rupert said the economy and the job market are “climbing back slowly” from the pandemic. Unemployment continues to decline, he said, in part because business owners can be more confident that even if COVID-19 cases flare up again, “we’re past the big lockdown stages of things.”
“We had a big spike down and a big spike up” in jobs, Rupert said. “But that big spike up only got us about halfway, and now we’re 80% of the way to where we were before the pandemic.”
NOTE: This article was posted Oct. 22 and updated Oct. 28 to include quotes from UCSB economist Peter Rupert.