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California still 176,000 jobs short of full pandemic recovery

California’s economy still needs 176,000 more jobs to join the nation’s job market that on Friday learned it had fully rebounded from the pandemic’s damage.

July jobs national stats showed an unexpected 582,000 hiring spree, pushing the U.S. worker count past pre-coronavirus levels to a record 152.5 million workers. California jobs stats for July won’t come out until Aug. 19, but July’s big national jump should put the state closer to complete job recovery.

Controversy has swirled about California’s tough business limitations designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Restrictions hit businesses with close customer contact the hardest. Restaurants, tourism and entertainment and personal services such as beauty, health and exercise were either shuttered or had services greatly reduced for more than a year.

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Such constraints deepened statewide job losses and slowed the rebound, even though the state did suffer below-average pandemic-related deaths on a per capita basis.

My trusty spreadsheet tells me California lost 2.76 million jobs in the early locked-down months of the pandemic, the largest employment dip among the states. This 16% drop was No. 14 nationally on a percentage basis.

Since the spring of 2020, the state has added 2.58 million jobs (No. 1 nationally) — but that’s just 94% of the initial pandemic job losses, with 23 states outperforming California’s employment rebound.

That left California in June with 17.52 million jobs — 176,000 short of February 2020, the last month before coronavirus hit, or 99% of pre-pandemic employment.

Ponder what the big U.S. July jump could mean for California. In 2022’s first half, California represented 14% of the nation’s 2.67 million jobs created. If the state’s share holds for July, a potential 74,000 job gains would almost cut by almost half California’s remaining pandemic era shortfall.

By the way, 15 states fully recovered all pandemic job losses, as of June: Utah (106% of February 2020 employment), Idaho (106%), Montana (104%), Texas (104%), Florida (103%), Tennessee (103%), Georgia (103%), North Carolina (103%), Arizona (102%), Colorado (101%), South Dakota (101%), Arkansas (101%), South Carolina (101%), Indiana (100%), and Nevada (100%).

PS: The strong U.S. jobs report could impact California another way — pressuring the Federal Reserve to further ramp up interest rate hikes designed to cool an overheated economy and soaring inflation. That could mean pricier mortgages, too.

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

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