RELEASE: California’s Labor Market Two Years Into the Pandemic – 2022 Chartbook

UC Berkeley Labor Center


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | May 19, 2022
Contact: Van Nguyen | vann@berkeley.edu, (415) 506-8054

Updated chartbook provides in-depth look at COVID-impacted labor market in California

BERKELEY, CA. – Today, the UC Berkeley Labor Center released an update to its data tool, “California’s Labor Market Two Years into the Pandemic: 2022 Chartbook.” The chartbook provides researchers, policymakers, journalists, and the public with an in-depth look at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers and the labor market in California based on the most recently available data.

The economy has come a long way since the pandemic hit two years ago, when unemployment skyrocketed. The current labor market is tighter than before the pandemic and wages are also higher for most workers. However, the pandemic did not affect all sectors and all workers equally, and those most affected continue to struggle in the midst of the state’s overall economic recovery, the chartbook shows.

“The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the state’s workforce, but its effects were particularly harmful to workers who are paid low wages,” says Enrique Lopezlira, director of the Low-Wage Work Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “Two years since the start of the pandemic, California’s economy is growing at a faster rate than before the pandemic, but these same workers still struggle to regain jobs and provide for their families. As the economy recovers, more needs to be done to ensure these workers and their families are part of this economic recovery.”

Key takeaways from this release:

  • California’s economy hasn’t fully recovered from the extraordinary job losses it incurred since the start of the pandemic. The state has recovered about 98% of jobs lost, but employment is still below the pre-pandemic level and the pre-pandemic trend. Compared to the nation as a whole, California lost a greater proportion of jobs during the pandemic.
  • The pandemic did not affect all sectors of the economy equally, and the recovery is just as uneven. In general, industries that pay low wages were hardest hit. But even within this sector there were differences. For instance, leisure and hospitality were most severely affected, while other industries, like transportation and warehousing, actually experienced job growth during the pandemic. Despite significant job growth over the past year in low-wage industries, they still trail high-wage industries in the number of jobs recovered. Food services and drinking establishments have only recovered 87% of lost jobs, and the accommodation industry has only recovered about half of the jobs lost. One quarter of the jobs lost in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry have not been recovered; as have a third of those in government, including schools.
  • The pandemic disproportionately impacted workers of color and those who have less formal education. Two years in, the unemployment rate for Black workers is still more than 1.5 times that of non-Latino White workers. Black and Latino workers faced higher unemployment rates prior to COVID-19 and this gap widened significantly at the peak of the pandemic. At the peak of the pandemic, workers with a high school diploma or less experienced a much higher increase in unemployment compared to other workers with higher levels of education. While unemployment has decreased at all education levels over the past year, recovery has been slower for those with the least education.

“It’s important to remember that the impact of COVID-19 extends beyond the labor market. Unemployment is not the only story,” said Lopezlira. “Many workers, especially workers of color and low-wage workers, continue to experience economic, housing, and food insecurities and challenges in accessing medical care.”

The chartbook will be updated periodically, as new data become available, to allow users to monitor the progress of the state’s labor market.

This project was made possible by grants from The James Irvine Foundation and The California Wellness Foundation.

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Founded in 1964, the UC Berkeley Labor Center works to address the most critical challenges affecting working families in California and across the nation. The Center provides timely, policy-relevant research on labor and employment issues and carries out training and education programs for labor leaders and students.