Despite California’s high unemployment rate, many positions at restaurants, bars and retail stores are going unfilled — causing some business owners to fear they won’t be able to fully reopen even when the state gives the green light on June 15.

The Golden State’s unemployment rate remained unchanged between March and April, holding steady at 8.3% even as employers added nearly 102,000 jobs, according to figures released Friday by the Employment Development Department. That accounts for 38% of all U.S. jobs gained last month — a bright spot that dims when one takes into account that California still has the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate and has regained only 48% of jobs lost amid the pandemic. In some areas, the share of jobless residents is actually increasing: Los Angeles’ unemployment rate shot from 11.4% in March to 11.7% in April.

Nevertheless, Gov. Gavin Newsom touted the April unemployment figures as California “continuing to lead the nation’s economic recovery,” noting that his $100 billion stimulus plan would help small businesses recover. Not all business owners were convinced.

Experts say the staffing shortage is likely due to a multitude of factors: People — especially women — dropping out of the labor force as schools and child care centers closed, fear of contracting the virus in the workplace, some families finding that it makes more financial sense to stay on unemployment than to return to work, low-wage workers gravitating to other parts of the state and other careers, and low wages in general.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,672,963 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 61,755 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 36,255,229 vaccine doses, and 49% of eligible 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.

On the latest podcast episode, we talk to California’s first Latino Senator Alex Padilla about his push for citizenship for undocumented immigrants, clean energy and infrastructure reform. Listen here, or read an overview of the conversation here.

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1. Mark your calendars for June 15

A sign welcoming customers at Reformation in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco on July 25, 2020. Gov. Newsom has announced June 15 as the target for businesses to reopen without restriction. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
A sign welcoming customers at Reformation in San Francisco on July 25, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

It’s really happening — California is really reopening. After more than a year of wearing masks and waiting in extra-long grocery lines due to six-foot rules, almost everything will snap back to normal on June 15, state health officials said Friday. Business capacity limits? Gone. Physical distancing requirements? Gone. Mask mandates? Gone for fully vaccinated people in most situations, though restrictions will remain for unvaccinated people and workplace guidelines still have to be finalized. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, also said California will not create a vaccine passport, though the state is working on privacy and equity guidelines for businesses who decide to use such a system. Californians who attend indoor events with more than 5,000 guests will be required to show proof of vaccination or of a negative COVID test — a precaution also recommended for outdoor events with more than 10,000 guests.

One area that may not return to normal as quickly: schools. The union United Teachers Los Angeles, for example, wants Los Angeles Unified to keep mask requirements and physical distancing mandates in place when schools reopen full-time in the fall.

2. Card rooms give big to Bonta

Rob Bonta listens to reporter questions at International Hotel Manilatown center in San Francisco on March 24, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Yes, it’s 2021, but you can bet your bottom dollar that California politicians and interest groups are already gearing up for the 2022 election. Case in point: Of the $500,000-plus newly appointed Attorney General Rob Bonta has raised for the 2022 election — which is already shaping up to be a closely watched race — card rooms, non-tribal casinos and their executives have contributed more than $300,000, Politico reports. Those groups oppose a likely 2022 ballot measure that would allow tribal casinos and some horse racing tracks to conduct sports betting. Guess who’s in charge of writing the ballot measure title and summary that many voters use to make their decisions? That’s right — Bonta. Gaming interests are also giving thousands of dollars to Bonta’s wife, Mia, who is running for her husband’s vacant Alameda-area Assembly seat.

  • Campaign consultant Ned Wigglesworth: ““This … highlights a longtime major flaw in the initiative process, where an attorney general can take campaign contributions from interest groups and then write the ballot label for measures that impact those interests.”

A lot’s at stake in how ballot measure titles and summaries are written. Last year, then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra was sued at least six times for the way he labeled and summarized some of the most contentious measures.

3. SF on track to break overdose record — again

Used needles are collected during a weekly needle distribution by HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland on Jan. 13, 2017. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group
Used needles are collected in Oakland on Jan. 13, 2017. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

More than 250 San Franciscans died of drug overdoses from January to April of this year — a sizable uptick from the 181 who fatally overdosed during the same period last year, when the city saw a record number of overdose deaths, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The scope of the city’s drug crisis dwarfs that of the pandemic: Last year, more than twice as many San Franciscans died from drug overdoses as from COVID-19. Nevertheless, a superior court judge on Friday rejected a request from the San Francisco city attorney to ban four people charged with drug dealing from the Tenderloin, where much of the city’s drug use is concentrated, citing the defendants’ constitutional rights. The line between public safety and individual rights is a hotly contested one: Counties are currently debating whether to opt into a state law that would permit them to force more severely mentally people into treatment against their will.

San Francisco isn’t the only city struggling with a surge in overdose deaths. Fentanyl overdose deaths spiked 202% in San Diego County last year, prompting the county’s public health officer to sign an order Friday that would allow the general public to administer Narcan inhalers to help reverse overdoses.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s $100 billion “California Comeback Plan” relies on uncertain tax revenue.

Funding peace: With rising gun violence in communities of color, Newsom and lawmakers must fully invest in California’s Violence Intervention and Prevention program, argues Pastor Mike McBride, co-founder of Black Church PAC.

Ensuring water supply: Water agencies need to invest in infrastructure and plan for drought to diversify their water supply portfolio and increase reliability, writes Heather Dyer of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.

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Other things worth your time

Tech billionaires kick-start the recall fight over Gavin Newsom. // Vox

California needs an extreme wealth tax, says multimillionaire. // Sacramento Bee

Wealthy progressives spending $10 million, even if it means beating other California Democrats. // San Francisco Chronicle

Newsom caught between key Democratic blocs on oil setbacks. // Associated Press

Newsom would put billions to CalPERS, CalSTRS pensions. // Sacramento Bee

San Francisco school board slow to reopen, quick on racial issues. // Washington Post

California city apologizes for treatment of early Chinese immigrants. // New York Times

Inside the Presidio field hospital that never was. // Here/Say

California argues sober home ordinances are illegal, forcing cities to make expensive decisions. // Orange County Register

The people who clean Los Angeles’ skid row find needles, rats, corpses — and deep gratitude. // Los Angeles Times

Tent cities explode in Marin, sparking new tensions. // Mercury News

Facing a drought, California’s farmers make hard choices. // Mercury News

Rumors fly after adventurous wolf goes missing in California. // Los Angeles Times

12th dead whale washes up on Bay Area shore — here’s what officials know. // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow.

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