Humboldt County workforce continues to rebound steadily – Times-Standard

Humboldt County’s economy continues to recover and move closer to where it was, labor-wise, before the pandemic began more than two years ago.

“We’re almost back to baseline, where we were before the pandemic hit,” said labor market consultant Randy Weaver. “We’re not quite there, but we’re almost there.”

The latest data from the Department for Employment Development shows the total civilian workforce grew by 2.6% from May 2021 to last May, when there were 59,800 people in the workforce work, including the self-employed, unpaid family workers, domestic workers and strikers.

“We’re actually up about 1,500 workers in the labor force from last year,” Weaver said. “This is really good news for companies, as it translates into more worker availability for their recruiting efforts.”

There were 62,000 people in the labor force, of which 59,200 were employed, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but this figure fell to 58,900, of which 50,000 were employed, a month later.

Employers said recruiting and retraining staff in Humboldt County was a challenge before the pandemic, and that was further exacerbated by pandemic-driven nationwide trends that continued into 2021.

For example, baby boomers have begun to retire in greater numbers. The Pew Research Center estimates that 3.2 million baby boomers retired between 2019 and 2020, more than the annual average of 2 million. Workers also began to quit en masse in what is known as the Great Resignation. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded a high streak of 11.4 million job openings in December and a high of 4.5 million people quitting in November.

Locally, the current month-over-month labor force growth is driven by seasonal employment in sectors such as agriculture (6.3%) and mining, logging and construction (7.7%).

“It’s typical to start seeing increases around this time of year for these industries because that’s when a lot of the harvesting starts,” Weaver said. “Generally it will increase each month until the third quarter, late summer, early fall, and then it will peak. As we move into the winter months, it tends to decrease quite quickly.

The only month-over-month workforce declines were seen in education and health services (1.2%) and retail trade (1.5%), which lost about a hundred jobs each and could be normal seasonal fluctuations, Weaver said.

Overall, the unemployment rate in May (2.9%) was half of what it was a year earlier, when it was 6.2%. The number of unemployed fell from 3,600 to 1,700.

Some employers expected to increase their workforce in early 2020, and would have if the pandemic hadn’t happened, Weaver said, but worker availability has become limited.

“I’m sure it remains a challenging recruiting environment,” Weaver said. “It’s almost like a correlation, the more qualified the employee you need, the more experience they need to have, the harder that position is likely to be to fill.”

Keeping training streams connected to employers is therefore critical, especially as new industries related to broadband and aquaculture come to the region, Weaver said.

College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt have already worked with employers in some of these industries to develop training programs. Institutions also partner with other institutions and employers in the region to create cradle-to-career pathways in education and healthcare.

However, many employers and those in economic development say housing is the biggest barrier to local workforce growth.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0504.

Michael A. Bynum