Sometimes we just don’t realize how good we have it. Not that the pandemic has been all sunshine and roses for all local businesses. For many, the struggle has been real. That said, I have continued to be encouraged by the unemployment data that is shared with the Chamber each month from the Employment Development Department, which shows that we have fared better than the State of California overall.
Just this week, Wendy Zanotelli, Executive Director of the SMART Workforce Center, shared a couple graphs with me, which show that while Shasta County’s unemployment rate has followed the statewide trend throughout the COVID crisis, it has been LOWER than that of the state every month since April of 2020.
Why is more of our local workforce still employed? I think there are many possible explanations. To keep it simple, I will pinpoint three that come to my mind.
1) Our COVID numbers have been relatively low. Yes, we did dive into the most restrictive, purple tier at one time, but overall, our more naturally socially distant lifestyle that comes with lower population density, has helped Shasta County avoid longer periods of shutdowns.
2) The “K-shaped recovery”. While food & beverage, hospitality, and small service & retail have shared the brunt of the adversity, other industries – construction, home-based service businesses, mortgage companies, etc. – have thrived. This has led to sustained employment opportunities in our county.
3) Local Leadership’s Decision to Educate, Not Enforce. Certain members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors have faced unspeakable criticism from some in our community perpetuating the notion that they have forced businesses to close. From my view, they have really done the opposite. Their decision from the beginning to educate and not enforce the state’s mandates, has allowed more businesses to stay open and survive.
It’s hard to argue with the numbers. As of February of 2021, fewer than 5,000 people are unemployed in Shasta County. If you couple the small applicant pool with the extension of weekly federal unemployment insurance payments of $300 through September 4th, it’s no wonder why businesses across all sectors are struggling to hire the people they need at this time. The direct stimulus payments to individuals, couples, and families have added to the hiring pressure as consumers are consuming, and supply chains are stretched thin.
I visited another part of the state in February in which the local ordinance required masks to be worn outside at all times (even while exercising) with the threat of a minimum fine of $100. I have spoken with other Chamber of Commerce executives from Southern California who have shared that as recently as late March many businesses remained forcibly closed and stay at home orders still intact.
As I enjoyed a family dinner INDOORS at Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant over the weekend, I couldn’t help but be grateful to live in Shasta County, where the lifestyle lends itself to lower COVID case numbers, and local leadership, faced with an impossible task, have led with a more reasonable and logical approach in this very challenging time.