It’s a troubling trend: For two out of three months in 2021, California’s unemployment rate shrank partly from thousands of people dropping out of the workforce.

The Golden State’s unemployment rate hit a pandemic low of 8.3% in March, down from 8.5% in February, according to figures released Friday by the Employment Development Department. But the decline was largely caused by the nearly 40,000 Californians who stopped looking for work altogether, even as employers added 119,600 new jobs. Similarly, California’s unemployment rate improved 0.3% between December and January, partly because 36,500 people dropped out of the job market. February is so far the only month in 2021 that saw an increase in the civilian labor market.

The numbers suggest that it will take more than fully reopening on June 15 for California’s economy to bounce back — and for the state to close gaps that persisted long before the pandemic hit. According to Mount Saint Mary University’s recently released Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California, 57% of men said working from home had a positive impact on their career, compared to 29% of women. And 34% of male parents said they received a promotion amid the pandemic, compared to 9% of female parents.

Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighted equity on Friday when he signed a bill requiring employers in the hospitality and business services industries to rehire workers laid off amid the pandemic once jobs become available. The law will remain in effect through 2024.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,616,779 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 59,768 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 25,533,215 vaccine doses, and 31.4% of Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.


Podcast: Newsom commits over half a billion dollars to wildfire prevention, and California’s vaccine inequity is evident in COVID-19 deaths. Listen to the latest California State of Mind episode here.


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1. Will distance learning end in fall?

Manzanita SEED Elementary School student Nicole Lopez, 8, on the first day of school at her Oakland home on Aug. 10, 2020. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

It’s the question on everyone’s minds: Will California require schools to reopen for full-time in-person instruction in the fall? Newsom said last week he expects all schools to do so but didn’t endorse a mandate, noting that communities hard-hit by the pandemic are concerned about sending their kids back to campus. The San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board appeared to view Newsom’s response as a cop-out, arguing in a Sunday editorial that “officials from the governor down must stop bowing to special interests at the expense of the state’s children.”

That prompted a rare Twitter clapback from the governor’s press office, which pointed out that Newsom’s January budget proposal doesn’t include a provision to permit distance learning in the fall. “Its (sic) up to the democratic process to confirm the Gov’s position,” the press office wrote — referring to budget negotiations with the Legislature. Newsom will present a revised budget in May, and the Legislature has until June 15 to pass it. Lawmakers are divided on whether distance learning should be permitted next school year, Assemblymember Marc Levine, a San Rafael Democrat, said last week.

  • Lisa Gardner, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, told me Sunday: “There is no substitute for in-person instruction. … But … we have no way of predicting at this point the impact of the surging variants later this year. We also have to provide options for families and students impacted by COVID who are not yet comfortable returning to in-person instruction.”

2. Vaccine equity concerns reignite

People come to the St. John’s Well Child And Family Center to get inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine in South Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond, CalMatters

California has passed a major vaccine milestone: As of Sunday, 51.5% of eligible residents were at least partially vaccinated, and nearly a third were fully vaccinated, according to state data. But with everyone 16 and older now eligible and supply expected to dwindle over the next few weeks, equity concerns have resurfaced. Although the Golden State recently surpassed its goal of administering 4 million shots in low-income areas, disparities persist: Communities with the least healthy conditions have only received 20% of the state’s doses, while the communities with the healthiest conditions have received 30%. There also appears to be a discrepancy in demand: People are clamoring for the shot in the Bay Area and San Diego County, for example, while thousands of doses are going unused in Fresno County.

  • Newsom on Thursday: “The number I’m most proud of, though not yet satisfied with yet, is the 4.84 million vaccines that have gone into our most impacted communities … But as a state, we still have a lot of work left to do.”

The governor on Friday announced that his administration would provide at least 25,000 doses to pop-up clinics in the state’s hardest-hit communities via partnerships with faith-based organizations.

3. Child care providers oppose state plan

Jesse Hamblen, 3, has his temperature checked by Shruti Agarwal at her home-based day care center in Livermore on April 13, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California child care providers are mobilizing against a state plan to resume in-person site inspections, arguing that inspectors — who aren’t required to be vaccinated — could potentially expose staff and children to coronavirus and force facilities to close, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. Around 2,200 providers have signed a petition asking the Department of Social Services to continue using virtual inspections, but the state hasn’t changed its mind so far.

  • Shruti Agarwal, who runs Shruti Family Day Care in Livermore: If coronavirus spreads from an inspection, “no one is going to say cases are because of licensing. It will become the child care’s fault. Then people have to close, lose money, lose clients and people start taking kids out of the program.”

Providers say the inspections are just the latest frustration in a series of ongoing challenges. Thousands of facilities have closed as children are kept at home and operating costs skyrocket. Others are barely hanging on. And providers, promised a stipend for caring for state-subsidized children nearly two months ago, are still waiting for the money to arrive.

4. Californians protest police violence

A demonstrator confronts a line of Oakland police officers during a protest against police brutality on April 16, 2021. Photo by Ethan Swope, Associated Press

Protests against police brutality swept across California this weekend following officers’ fatal shootings of Daunte Wright in Minneapolis and Adam Toledo in Chicago, which took place amid an ongoing murder trial for the police officer charged with killing George Floyd. In Los Angeles, hundreds of protesters gathered Saturday night for a march and candlelit vigil. Things were a bit less peaceful in other parts of the state: In Oakland, some demonstrators broke away from the main group to smash windows, set fires and spray paint red anarchy symbols, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A police officer and community member were injured, according to the Associated Press. Four Sacramento police officers spent Saturday night in the hospital after protesters sprayed them with an unknown irritant, according to the Sacramento Bee. No arrests were made in any of the cities.


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CalMatters events

WEDNESDAY: The Future of Campus Policing. In the wake of national protests against racism and police brutality, join CalMatters and KQED for a wide-ranging discussion about the role of police on college campuses. Register here.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: We should be skeptical of California politicians who claim that we can interrupt supply chains — in the name of environmental protection — without negative consequences.

California’s big climate ambitions are dead: The Golden State’s environmental leadership has foundered, thanks to an alliance between the state’s building trades union and the oil industry, argues RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus.

Securing our water future: California’s water infrastructure is in need of the kind of financial investment that only the federal government can afford, writes Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.


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Other things worth your time

How California is getting homeless people off the street by buying hotels. // New York Times

California needs more affordable homes. This union stands in the way. // Wall Street Journal

How much do San Jose agencies spend on homeless encampments? // Mercury News

Long Beach wants to help Biden house immigrant children. But are city leaders ready? // Los Angeles Times

A California beach town seized a Black couple’s land in the 1920s. Now their family could get it back. // The Guardian

Newsom recall deflates progressive dreams. // Politico

Will former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa run in recall? // Los Angeles Times

Oakland teachers declare impasse in talks with district, but say they will return to classrooms. // San Francisco Chronicle

Superintendent Vincent Matthews agrees to stay if school board behaves. // San Francisco Chronicle

LAUSD won’t participate in statewide testing for second straight year. // LAist

California gold fever still reigns. New prospectors seek to reopen giant mine. // San Francisco Chronicle

After deadliest day of 2021, Oakland reels from gun violence. // Mercury News

Shy podcaster helped police crack California cold case. // ABC News


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...