Riverside County’s jobless rate hits record high

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The unemployment rate in Riverside County was 15.3% in April – the highest level recorded in the California Employment Development Department’s electronic database going back three decades, according to figures released Friday, May 22.

The jobless rate in April, based on preliminary estimates, exceeded March’s rate by roughly 10 percentage points, before the full impact of the government public health orders stemming from the coronavirus emergency took effect, according to EDD data.

The April rate was nearly 12 percentage points higher than the year-ago level, when countywide unemployment stood at 3.7%.

The EDD’s online database, which supplies regional metrics that begin in January 1990, indicate that the last time the jobless rate was close to the current high mark was in July 2010, when 14.5% of the county workforce was unemployed at the tail end of the Great Recession.

About 168,800 residents were out of work in April, and 931,300 were employed, according to the EDD.

The surge in unemployment claims countywide coincides with a wave of increases throughout the country, with over 30 million jobless filings in the last eight weeks, as businesses rolled back or shuttered operations because of COVID-19 mitigation measures, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Inland Empire Business Activity Index, published earlier in May by the University of California Riverside Center for Economic Forecasting, showed private sector output plummeted to an annualized rate of negative 0.2% in the first quarter of the year, compared to a healthy 2% growth rate in the final quarter of 2019.

The stunning drop-off was a direct result of small, medium and large businesses going into lockdown mode, according to economists. Los Angeles based Beacon Economics said last month there are expectations for a dramatic rebound in business activity and productivity nationwide when states end restrictions.

“Just how long the region’s business activity remains suppressed depends on when stay-at-home orders and business closures are relaxed, but for the short term, it’s clear the second quarter will look worse than the first,” Adam Fowler, research director of the Center for Economic Forecasting, said.

Locally, Desert Hot Springs and East Hemet shared the highest unemployment rate countywide at 22.6%, followed by the unincorporated community of Highgrove at 22.3% and Coachella at 21.5%.

The combined unemployment rate for Riverside and San Bernardino counties in April was 14.4%, up from 5.2% in March.

Bi-county data indicated payrolls shrank by the widest margin last month in the leisure and hospitality industry, which shed 53,800 positions. Additional losses were recorded in the agricultural, business services, retail trade, construction, manufacturing, health services, information services, financial services and public sectors, which altogether lost 84,300 jobs. Further, miscellaneous unclassified industries contracted by about 10,100 positions, according to the EDD. Even the mining industry, which rarely shows any changes on EDD datasheets, posted a loss of 100 – the smallest of any Inland Empire sector.

There were no payroll expansions.

The state’s jobless rate in April was 16.1%, according to the EDD.