As San Joaquin County health officials continue to allow various sectors of the economy to reopen, more residents are going back to work.

The California Employment Development Department this week released its preliminary employment statistics for the month of May, which shows 16.6% of San Joaquin County’s labor force was unemployed last month, down 17.8% from April.

“We’re seeing some of the effects of some sectors open gradually,” said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, executive director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at University of the Pacific.

“Some people are being recalled back to their jobs, and I think that will increase over the next couple of months and stabilize,” he said. “Right now we’re getting into the season when unemployment typically declines. Of course, we haven’t experienced the circumstances we are now. But I think we’ll definitely see some improvement.”

According to data at www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov, only three employment sectors saw a decrease in their work force in May.

There were 44,500 people employed in government in April, and 1,000 lost their jobs in May, the largest decrease in the county.

The trade, transportation and utilities industry employed 63,900 in April, and lost 600 last month, while the information sector lost 100 jobs in May from 1,500 positions filled.

Overall, the county saw an additional 2,700 jobs added in May, with the farming industry — which had 11,500 employees in April — seeing the largest increase at 2,000 more workers.

The construction industry increased from 11,400 employees to 12,300, and educational and health services rose from 35,300 to 36,100.

The leisure and hospitality sector reported 12,000 employees in May, an increase of 500 from April.

While the county’s overall unemployment rate is slightly down, numbers in each city still increased.

Lodi’s unemployment rate was 14.4% in May, up from 8.5% in March when the COVID-19 pandemic began. At that time, Lodi had the second-highest jobless rate in the county. In May, it had the fourth highest among the county’s seven incorporated cities.

Last month, there were 4,100 unemployed Lodi residents among a work force of 28,700.

Stockton reported the highest unemployment rate with 17.8%, while Tracy and Manteca had jobless rates of 16.5% and 16.3%, respectively.

“In the next month or two, I think we’ll see a decrease in the unemployment rate as more businesses open up and people start to leave home and contribute to the economy while social distancing,” Michael said. “But there is uncertainty about what the fall and winter will look like, as those are months when seasonal work begins to emerge and experts are projecting COVID-19 cases to increase again.”

Michael said there is also uncertainty as to whether there will be enough unemployment benefits for the jobless past July, when the $600 federal unemployment boost is set to expire.

Currently, lawmakers in Washington D.C. are debating whether or not to expand the additional supplement for those who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, there are discussions about funding another round of the Paycheck Protection Program to help small business and their employees survive during an economic downturn.

On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was signed into law, creating the program that helped small businesses retain employees and pay for expenses during the pandemic through the Small Business Administration.

The program provided $349 billion in federally-guaranteed loans to small businesses. In San Joaquin County, F&M Bank allocated $334 million in loans.

Another uncertainty that may affect the jobless rate in the county is the continued increase in COVID-19 cases.

San Joaquin County was placed on a state COVID-19 watch list June 7 due to an increase in hospitalizations and limited hospital capacity just two weeks after being approved for attestation to move further along through Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Roadmap to Recovery.

There had been 752 cases of COVID-19 in the county by May 21 when its attestation was approved. On Friday, the county reported a total of 1,927 cases since the pandemic began.

There were 57 people in the hospital throughout the county on Thursday.

“The county continues to see increases in cases, and that could dampen business’ desire to open,” Michael said. “It could also affect consumer confidence and whether or not people are willing to leave home to spend money.”

The county’s total work force for May was 320,800 in May, with 53,300 unemployed, according to the EDD. When the pandemic began in March, there were 27,100 out of work out of a labor force of 328,400.

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