San Diego County's labor market has lagged behind the rest of the state and nation, even with the loosening of pandemic restrictions, according to a report released Monday.
Though the region added 2,000 jobs in May, mostly in the leisure and hospitality industries, overall nonfarm employment in San Diego County was "essentially flat," according to the report from the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Manpower West and Point Loma Nazarene University. The report is based on employment data collected while San Diego County was in the orange tier of the state's reopening system.
As of May, San Diego jobs were at about 92% of their pre-pandemic high from February of 2020, while California's recovery was at 93% and the U.S. as a whole was at 95%, according to the report.
"Two constraints faced San Diego businesses in May," according to Lynn Reaser, from the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at PLNU. "Many were not allowed to fully reopen and even more could not find employees. Filling job openings will now be San Diego's major challenge in the months ahead."
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Different industries are recovering at varying paces, with construction and utility jobs back to their pre-pandemic highs, while leisure and hospitality employment are only at 76% of that level.
Despite the slow recovery, San Diego's unemployment rate fell in May and officials say jobs are available, especially in industries that struggled to find employees during the pandemic.
Daniel Enemark, senior economist for the San Diego Workforce Partnership, said leisure and hospitality jobs "remain understaffed, with accommodations 11,000 workers short and food services and drinking places over 25,000 workers short of pre-pandemic employment."
Enemark said those seeking work should look to those sectors, as they "are urgently seeking workers, with many employers offering higher wages, providing more flexible schedules, and requiring less or even no experience."
Phil Blair, executive officer of Manpower West, concurred with that finding, saying, "Leisure and hospitality are begging for workers, as well as manufacturing."
Blair said San Diegans looking for work are in an opportunistic position.
"The pendulum has totally swung to the side of employees, as businesses across the board compete for workers," Blair said. "Employees are taking more time to consider their options and companies need to present a compelling case for their job opportunities.''