How you interpret California’s latest unemployment numbers may have a lot to do with whether you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty kind of person.
If you’re the former, Friday’s report from the Employment Development Department is cause to celebrate: It shows that California’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.9% in May, down from April’s revised rate of 8%. The Golden State also gained a whopping 104,500 jobs in May, marking the fourth consecutive month employers added more than 100,000 positions to their payrolls. Never has California seen so much job growth coming out of a recession, according to Michael Bernick, a former EDD director and attorney at Duane Morris.
But if you’re the latter, the report is cause for concern: Despite record job growth, California’s labor force only grew by 12,400 workers — meaning thousands of open jobs are going unfilled. The Golden State has only regained 51.8% of jobs lost since the onset of the pandemic, far below the national rate of 66%. And the small business economy is “decimated,” with openings down 40.8%, according to Bernick.
- Scott Anderson, an economist with Bank of the West in San Francisco: “A full California labor market recovery … is still likely several years away. Even with stepped-up job growth, California has been unable to close the yawning unemployment gap with the nation.”
Although middle- and high-wage workers have largely recovered employment, low-wage workers have not. Some experts say the jobs opening up in restaurants and retail aren’t paying workers enough to live in a state where the median home price tops $813,000. Other business owners say expanded unemployment benefits are incentivizing workers to stay home. EDD last week reinstated its work search requirement: Starting July 11, Californians will need to begin looking for work in order to keep receiving unemployment benefits.
As workers ask for higher wages, businesses are pleading for financial relief of their own. California is expected to borrow $26.7 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits — a debt that will be paid by businesses via payroll taxes. In ongoing budget negotiations, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed covering $1.1 billion of that cost; lawmakers, $2 billion.
- Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable: “If they don’t do anything more … it could drive (businesses) right over the edge.”
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,702,882 confirmed cases (+0.03% from previous day) and 62,689 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
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.
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Other stories you should know
1. State weighs third eviction moratorium
As soon as today, Newsom and lawmakers could announce a deal to extend California’s eviction moratorium for the third time — just days before it’s set to expire on June 30, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. One key reason why a third extension is under consideration: The state has distributed only about $50 million of $1.4 billion in rent relief, and has received applications for only about half the money — despite estimates that California renters owe $3.5 billion in back rent. As state agencies work to streamline the application process and make it available in more languages, tenants rights groups say California shouldn’t end the moratorium until all funds have been distributed. Landlords, meanwhile, want protections to end by September.
- Brian Augusta of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation: “In my mind, it would be a travesty to end these eviction protections before we get every dollar out the door.”
- Debra Carlton of the California Apartment Association: “We’d rather not have an extension at all, but we need to get the money out. … If that means a short, short-term extension, so be it. But the focus has to be on getting the money out.”
2. State releases digital vaccine tool
You can now obtain a digital copy of your COVID-19 vaccination card using a tool state health officials launched Friday, a few months after they said California wasn’t planning to develop its own vaccine passport. Newsom last week hinted a vaccine verification system was in the works, but insisted it wasn’t a passport because using the system would be optional. Nevertheless, the state worked with “top businesses, service and event purveyors” to create the tool, suggesting it was developed with an eye toward helping companies verify customers’ vaccination status. Tech problems are already emerging: A glitch prevented San Diego residents from requesting digital cards, while some Californians are having trouble accessing their cards because their cell phone numbers or emails aren’t linked to their vaccine record.
Meanwhile, some workers fear outbreaks could surge as the state reopens and mask mandates are loosened. California last year adopted a law requiring employers to release information on workplace outbreaks, but only 20 of 58 counties have shared specific data, a Mercury News investigation found. And vaccination rates for California’s police, fire and corrections officers are far lower than the state’s average for adult residents — prompting the Los Angeles Times to ask if unvaccinated public safety workers pose a threat to public safety.
3. State combats human trafficking
Attorney General Rob Bonta on Friday formally launched regional teams aimed at combatting human trafficking and apprehending sexual predators. He also asked Newsom and lawmakers to double funding for survivors from $10 billion to $20 billion annually over the next three years. Human trafficking has skyrocketed in California amid the pandemic, with a 185% uptick in urgent cases in Los Angeles alone, according to advocates. But the problem predates COVID-19: Between 2016 and 2019, more than 14,000 Californians received state help to recover from human trafficking, according to a recent report from the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state watchdog. Of those, 86% were female, 33% were Black and 26% were under the age of 18.
- Bonta: “Plain and simple: Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Whether it’s forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation of children … the pandemic has only served to exacerbate many of the underlying risks that lead to human trafficking in our state.”
In other Department of Justice news, 22 Republican-led states on Friday asked a federal appeals court to halt enforcement of California’s assault weapons ban — which the state is upholding as it appeals a recent ruling that declared the ban unconstitutional.
4. State calls for more oversight of school spending
In a major win for proponents of stricter oversight of school spending, the state Department of Education ruled last week that a county education office wrongly approved several school districts’ plans for spending extra money intended for disadvantaged students, EdSource reports. The state found that the San Bernardino County Office of Education gave three school districts the green light to spend more than $150 million set aside for high-needs students — even though the districts didn’t justify how the proposed expenses would help those kids. (A particular point of contention: $14 million spent on police services.) The ruling comes as advocates push for increased transparency in school spending, noting that districts are about to receive record amounts of money — thanks to state and federal COVID relief funds and a massive budget surplus — with very little accountability.
Speaking of educational equity, California’s first mandated school desegregation effort in 50 years is playing out in the Bay Area, where Sausalito is merging its charter school with Marin City’s majority-Black public school.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Two new studies suggest how California should handle the year-round threat of catastrophic wildfires.
Righting redlining’s wrongs: Senate Bill 9 helps restore what decades of segregation took away: the right to choose where to live, argues Eric Payne of the Central Valley Urban Institute.
The importance of watershed restoration: Investing in the Sacramento River headwaters region could secure the state’s water supply for decades, writes Laurie Wayburn of Pacific Forest Trust.
State reservoir activity warrants scrutiny: Did water managers fill Southern California reservoirs before Northern California awakened to the true shortages? asks James Batchelder, a retired corporate vice president of environmental affairs.
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Other things worth your time
Graduate student researchers at University of California seek union representation in historic organizing effort. // CalMatters
School superintendents — including those in California — are leaving their jobs in larger numbers than usual. // Washington Post
Oakland families are suing California for its distance learning plan. Here’s the latest. // The Oaklandside
Few Los Angeles police agencies have given prosecutors dishonest cop names. // Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles just elected a progressive district attorney. He’s already facing a recall effort. // New York Times
What covering hundreds of homicides in California taught me. // Los Angeles Times
‘Laura’s Law’ okayed in 30 counties in a major statewide turnaround. // Capitol Weekly
How much fracking is there in California? Newsom, state regulators can’t tell. // Politico
In Russian River’s fabled vineyards, the harvest of a drought. // Mercury News
See you tomorrow.
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