NOVATO (KPIX) -- Small businesses navigating the challenges of the pandemic say hiring workers is the latest hurdle they face almost two years since COVID-19 changed the economy.
"We keep thinking we're made in the shade now, we're good, and then something else will flare up," said Brandon Henslee, store manager at the Novato location of Five Little Monkeys Toys & Gifts. "Sometimes it's like any warm body will do. We're not in that situation yet so I'm kind of being picky."
This store chain has two locations in the North Bay. It is not the only business hiring on Grant Ave in Novato. Local employers here get a sense of where they are in the recovery by comparing notes month to month.
"I see hiring signs in some of the windows. I know we've lost some stores on the street this year," Henslee told KPIX.
California's unemployment rate dipped a half-percentage point in December as the state added 50,700 non-farm jobs, which accounted for more than a quarter of the nation's 199,000 new jobs during the month, according to new data released Friday.
"Our recovery is slower than the U.S. recovery. The Bay Area's recovery is slower than California's overall recovery," said Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. "When you look at other metros like Denver, Austin, Salt Lake City, our West Coast competitors, even Seattle, many of them are much closer to full employment."
The state has now regained nearly 72% of the 2.7 million jobs it lost when Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the nation's first statewide stay-at-home order in the spring of 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
California's 6.5% jobless rate is down from 9.3% a year ago. The state added nearly a million jobs since December 2020, the state's Employment Development Department reported. Last month's hiring boost lags the average gain of 97,200 jobs in earlier months last year which slowed in November and December. California also remained well above the national jobless rate of 3.9%.
"I think our biggest concern when you talk about Bay Area jobs is affordability of housing," Bellisario said.
"We will see people coming back but it's still a very different dynamic than we've seen in previous California recoveries since the 1980s," said Michael Bernick, Duane Morris employment attorney and former director of the California EDD.
The state employs about 920,000 fewer workers than those on the job in January 2020, just before the pandemic.
As the population in California falls and businesses in the Bay Area offer positions remotely or look to locate workers in other parts of the country, Bellisario says making the region a place more people will want to call home is key. He says the role of a hybrid model has still not been finalized by employers but it could end up having people outside of the office more days of the week. The impact of omicron may not be captured in this month's report and we may need to look at all of January to understand it, he added.
"I think, in these times, they're looking for some, quote 'real world skills,' especially in this time because so many of them have been stuck behind screens and iPads," Henslee said about the students who often work for him. "They want some real-world interactivity with, you know, other people and learning about the responsibilities of having a job."
Nearly 356,000 people were certified for unemployment insurance during December's sample week, down from nearly 435,000 in November and more than 1 million a year ago. More than 49,000 initial claims were processed during the sample week, down more than 3,600 from November -- a drop of more than 110,000 from a year ago.
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