Keep an eye out for even more “Help Wanted” signs: Napa County’s unemployment rate has dropped to at least a 29-year-low.
Coming in at a rock bottom 2.3 percent this May, that’s the lowest the county’s jobless rate has fallen since the state began tracking such jobless numbers in 1990 under its current system.
This compares with an unadjusted unemployment rate of 3.5 percent for California and 3.4 percent for the nation during the same period.
“It’s a mixture of good news and bad news,” said Jim Cassio, labor market analyst for the Workforce Alliance for the North Bay.
“The good news is that the low unemployment rate definitely indicates that most people who want to work have jobs or can find jobs,” said Cassio.
“But we need to put it in perspective,” he added.
Many of the Napa County jobs contributing to the jobless rate decline are seasonal, experts said. They’re not the same as a full-time permanent position. Those seasonal jobs include leisure, hospitality and farm jobs.
The low rate also doesn’t take into account those workers who are underemployed, working only part time or are no longer looking for work, Cassio said.
“Even though we might be seeing really good numbers, the statistics don’t tell the whole story,” said Cassio.
The state Economic Development Department counts only those who are in the labor force and actively looking for work. Those who are no longer looking for work are not counted.
One year ago, the number of employed Napa County workers totaled 73,700 compared to 72,900 this May. The number of unemployed dropped from 1,800 to 1,700, statistics show.
And workers with part-time jobs are still counted as “employed,” regardless of the number of hours they work.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, about 17.2 percent of all U.S. workers are part timers. Back in 1968, the number was 13.5 percent. If you factor in “gig work” such as Uber and Lyft drivers, that part-time estimate rises, said Cassio.
“What all this tells us is that while the unemployment statistics are useful, they give us an incomplete picture that ignores the problem of under employment,” said Cassio.
Robert Eyler, Ph.D., an economic consultant and dean at Sonoma State University, said that local businesses are impacted by low unemployment rates if that means they can’t find qualified workers to fill open positions.
When employers can’t hire enough staff, it has a trickle-down effect on consumers.
When a big-box retailer doesn’t have enough people to stock the shelves, that is a “big problem,” said Eyler.
Eyler ticked off situations that shoppers may notice in an area with low unemployment: “Fewer workers in a restaurant. Bad service. Less people to ask a question to at the grocery store. Longer lines where they shop. Longer lines at wineries,” said Eyler.
Besides the employment challenges the county faces, Cassio said he was encouraged by 200 new jobs in the construction sector.
Although many construction jobs are seasonal, “This is where I see some hope” because he’s seen sustained growth in that industry, which offers good-paying middle skill jobs, said Cassio.
Also worth noting is 100 new jobs in the education and health services sector. Those are not seasonal jobs, said Cassio.
“That’s another encouraging statistic that suggests long-term sustained growth.”