The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation has taken a preliminary glimpse at what the employment situation would look like in May if the current pandemic lockdown is continued in the 10-county Southern California region. It isn’t pretty. 

Slicing and dicing through the numbers at hand, LAEDC researchers estimate that the Southern California region will lose 2,816,700 jobs this May from May of the previous year. That’s a 27.4 percent decline in jobs, year-over-year. While employed workers in the region are estimated to number just under 7.5 million, below May 2019’s total of nearly 10.3 million workers, unemployment is projected to hit 31.4% overall in the 10-county region in May. 

The report set up many qualifiers related to the current situation and acknowledged that the situation could certainly change if the economy opens to some degree and the job loss is not so devastating. “All of the uncertainties and changing conditions in terms of job losses, containing the virus, length of stay-at-home orders, consumption levels, supply changes and more, mean that projections and forecasts made in the midst of this crisis could vary from real outcomes.” 

While the report notes that the “estimates should not be used as an argument to reopen businesses or ease social distancing requirements throughout the region,” it does become part of the ongoing debate of how quickly the lockdown should be eased and what affect such moves would have on jobs, the economy and government revenue. 

The 31% unemployment figure is a staggering, eye-catching number even exceeding the highest unemployment percentage in the United States during the Great Depression of 25% in 1933. 

The report states that food preparation and serving related occupations will be the most affected. The report also warns that “small businesses will face liquidity issues, particularly in Los Angeles County, where 93 percent of businesses employ fewer than 20 workers.”  

Problematically, these occupations and businesses come with the most social contact, which should be avoided to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

For officials, the dilemma is clear. Opening up the work force would lessen the hit on the economy but perhaps allow the virus to gain. 

One interesting note, there was no category for government jobs lost. As of this writing, I could not determine if that is because no government jobs are estimated to be lost, or if government jobs fell into other categories. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has called for furloughing government workers for 26 days to meet budget demands. 

The current belief is that dramatically increased testing can lead to more quickly opening businesses and get people back to work. At his Wednesday press briefing, Gov. Gavin Newsom said help is on the way with more testing. Until he sees enough improvements in the COVID-19 curve numbers the governor is holding tight to his stay-at-home order while hoping for positive tests results to ease the restrictions. 

Looking down a black hole of unimagined unemployment numbers should be an additional impetus to get the job done on testing and take steps to return to normalcy. 

More on the study can be found here.


(Update: the article corrected the number of proposed furlough days in LA from 16 to 26.)