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Bay Area Shows Cracks in Employment Outlook as Federal Benefits Set to Expire

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Federal unemployment benefits under the CARES Act are set to expire on Labor Day, unironically. As of Sept. 6, the weekly $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, benefits for freelancers and for those who have otherwise exhausted their eligible claims will disappear. Residents of 26 states have already lost the FPUC benefit as governors chose to voluntarily withdraw from the program in advance.

It’s been asserted that added unemployment benefits incentivize people from accepting available jobs. Reality is far from that simple for the millions still without suitable work. Recent surveys examined by FlexJobs found that just 13 percent of jobseekers said they’d postponed their search as a result of added benefits and stimulus payments. Nearly 50 percent of people are looking at positions outside of their current fields and about the same number of people say that despite the desire and flexibility, they’re not finding opportunities with livable wages.

That, of course, was an issue prior to March 2020 but the situation only grew worse when the pandemic flooded the jobseeker market. 

The real problem ahead is one of denial on our government’s part. Nobody wants to admit that this fourth Covid-19 surge will derail the recovering economy, and there’s little appetite in Congress for extending federal unemployment benefits yet again. The July jobs report, which outperformed expectations with the addition of 943,000 U.S. jobs, is held up as proof that constituents don’t need the extra help. However, statistics from the end of July and beginning of August are beginning to show cracks.   

California Employment Development Department data for the nine Bay Area counties paints a less shiny picture of the job market in July and in the first week of August. All but San Mateo County reported a higher monthly average of new claims in July than in June, and the first week of August in every county came in higher than July’s average.

New jobless claims for Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties from June 1 through the first week of August 2021. (Chart courtesy of EDD)

Jobs most likely to be in the low-wage range — accommodation and food services; administrative and support; and retail — are also starting to take a hit with new unemployment claims in those industries. The EDD reports that more accommodation and food service jobs were lost in the first week of August than in any week in July. New claims in the retail industry were the highest they’ve been since the last week of May; administrative and support jobless claims pretty much track that of retail.

The change may be minor at this point, especially in comparison to the height of the pandemic-related recession, but the trajectory is going in the wrong direction. We don’t yet have data beyond the first week of August, but we do know that the Covid-19 surge has intensified in that same time and that will have an impact, especially on service, hospitality travel and retail industries. 

The cold reality is that California confirmed nearly a million cases in the week ending Aug. 15, which is the weekly highest case count since the end of January. Hospitalizations are up dramatically and available ICU beds on the decline. As we’ve seen before, those health circumstances lead to reactions in the job market.

If case and job trends persist through the month, getting rid of the federal unemployment benefit may be premature at best and disastrous at worst. 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.