The unemployment rate in San Joaquin County could triple because of COVID-19 as businesses scale down their operations or close up shop, according a report from the University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy Research.

The center’s report, released last week, estimates that by May the state could lose more than 3.8 million jobs, leading to an unemployment rate of 18.8%, including 1.25 million lost jobs in Northern California for an unemployment rate of 17.7%.

In San Joaquin County, which had a precoronavirus unemployment rate of 6.6% in February, UOP forecasters expect the unemployment rate will top 20% by May. A labor force of 327,100 people will see about 65,800 people unemployed, with food preparation and service businesses hardest hit, as well as sales-related jobs.

Jeff Michael, executive director at UOP’s Center for Business Policy and Research in Stockton, said the center came up with its projections based on state data of how many people are employed in each sector of the economy, compared with known impacts that stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19 and essential business classifications have on those occupations.

“These are initial projections, so these are model-based, not necessarily driven by data that we have yet,” Michael said. “It will be several weeks before we get any kind of preliminary local data.”

The report also takes commuting into account, acknowledging that many workers in San Joaquin County work in Alameda County or other parts of the Bay Area.

“If we hadn’t made that adjustment, the unemployment rate would have been a bit lower in San Joaquin County, but it pushed our estimate up to 20%,” he said.

The actual numbers will come from agencies such as the state’s Employment Development Department, which tracks the number of jobs across the state and in each metropolitan statistical area. The Stockton-Lodi MSA covers San Joaquin County. Michael said his office generally gets those numbers about a month after the fact.

“We had some initial data on unemployment claims as being the hard numbers that we have at this point,” he said. “We won’t get any unemployment claims data at the county level or anything lower than the state level until the end of the month. Even then, it will just be March.”

The state EDD numbers show that unemployment in San Joaquin County tends to peak in January in a normal year, with people starting to get back to work in February.

Ed Wanket, an economic development analyst with the San Joaquin County Economic Development Association, noted that the EDD’s numbers so far for this year, based on unemployment insurance claims, saw a sharp increase in March. It’s likely that unemployment at the end of March, once the EDD releases its numbers, will be double what it was in February.

For example, in the first week of March, there were 608 new unemployment insurance claims in San Joaquin County, followed by a slight increase in the second week of March. The third week of the month, ending March 21, saw 2,551 claims, twice the number from the first two weeks.

That was the week the county health department issued its first stay-at-home order, and a week later, the EDD reported 18,628 new unemployment claims in San Joaquin County. On April 4, the county reported 14,699 new claims.

The EDD reported at the start of April that unemployment claims statewide had nearly quadrupled in each of the last two weeks of March. There were 58,000 claims filed in the week ending March 14; two weeks later, 878,727 claims were filed in the week ending March 28.

Michael said he expects his office will continue to update its projections as numbers come in from the EDD, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and his office’s own research into job openings in the county. He added that economic researchers face unique circumstances as they try to predict what’s in store for local economies.

“We certainly can’t look at the past cycle to project in the same way that we normally can,” he said. “These are our initial estimates and we’ll be revisiting it as we get better information. I’m hopeful it looks a little bit better than our initial projections. We’ll just keep improving it as we know more.”

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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