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Pandemic cost Orange County 181,200 jobs, 243% jump in unemployment

Orange County Register - 3/31/2021

Mar. 31—The pandemic era's first year cost roughly 1-in-9 workers in Orange County their jobs and more than tripled unemployment.

My trusty spreadsheet, filled with state job figures, found local bosses had 1.5 million workers in February — down 181,200 in the 12 months since the last time the economy wasn't shackled by coronavirus. That translates to the pandemic cutting 11% of local jobs.

It's a very split job decline. Employment in "fun" industries — retail, eateries, tourism and entertainment — is 39% below pre-pandemic staffing vs. a drop of 6% for the rest of the economy. And a 6% loss isn't pretty. The cuts slashed the "fun" share of local jobs to 9.2% from 13.4% in 2015-19.

O.C.'s latest unemployment rate was 6.8% vs. a pandemic peak of 14.9% and 2.8% in February 2020, according to my spreadsheet. That's a 243% one-year jump. Note: The Great Recession had a 10.5% unemployment high.

And if the latest unemployment rate was adjusted to include the 130,300 folks who quit the job market, 16.3% would be the jobless rate.

Here's how employment fared in key industries in Orange County — latest month vs. February 2020 — ranked by largest jobs losses in percentage terms ...

Arts, entertainment and recreation: 20,300 jobs — down 34,300 in a year — a 63% decline.

Hotels: 11,800 jobs — down 14,600 in a year — a 55% decline.

Restaurants: 106,600 jobs — down 38,200 in a year — a 26% decline.

Bubble Watch tracks housing risks. Read it here!

Government: 154,000 jobs — down 14,000 in a year — an 8% decline.

Manufacturing: 146,600 jobs — down 11,800 in a year — a 7% decline.

Retailing: 139,800 jobs in February 2021 — down 8,300 over 12 months — a 6% decline.

Business services: 308,900 jobs — down 19,600 in a year — a 6% decline.

Healthcare, personal services: 196,300 jobs — down 9,500 in a year — a 5% decline.

Real estate, construction, finance: 113,700 jobs — down 5,600 in a year — a 5% decline.

Transportation/warehouses: 28,300 jobs — up 1,000 in a year — a 4% increase. Yes, an increase! Logistics work grew with more online shopping!

And in the four-county Southern California region? 93,000 jobs added to 7.1 million — but that's 11% below February 2020. (Fun jobs at 33% off pre-virus level vs. 7% elsewhere.) Unemployment? 9.5% last month vs. 10.8% the previous month and 4.2% in February 2020.

Jonathan Lansner is business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at


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