San Francisco North Bay recovers most all jobs lost to the pandemic, economist says

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Restaurant and hotel jobs, the hardest hit during the pandemic, are among those returning fastest to the North Bay as COVID-19 restrictions ease, a local economist said Wednesday.

But for other sectors, like government and brick-and-mortar retail, it remains unclear when — and how — those jobs may return.

Robert Eyler, Ph.D., dean of Sonoma State University’s School of Extended and International Education and a professor of economics, also said the North Bay has now recovered 94.7% of the jobs lost since January 2020.

“And a lot of economists are revising predictions from even just the previous quarter (because) the speed of recovery is gaining momentum,” he said. “And that's good.”

Eyler presented his views during a virtual webinar held by Nelson Staffing, titled “Today’s Economy and the Remote Work Revolution: Expert Insight to Help Your Business Thrive in 2021.”

The pandemic’s impact on brick-and-mortar shops could be lasting, he noted.

“From a retail standpoint, we’ve seen our lives move from kind of a hybrid situation where we're doing some shopping online, but a lot of it was still local,” Eyler said, “to now seeing large online retailers taking advantage of the current conditions in such a way to gather more market share because we have moved our lives online.”

On the other end of that online retail surge is a boost in jobs for the transportation and warehousing sector, he noted.

And economists are watching government jobs as the pandemic recovery continues.

“The COVID-19 recession triggered some retirements,” he said. “And as government budgets shrink — even though now we're going to see a lot of federal money come in and help a lot of city, state and local governments over the next couple of years — one question is whether or not the budget contraction gave government a sense of, ‘Maybe we don't need to rehire in completely the same capacity we started with before COVID-19.’”

Eyler also addressed jobs-recovery comparisons between the current recession and past economic turndowns.

“One thing I try to tell people is, don't run to the recession after the First World War simply because the Spanish flu was there at the same time, and don't run to the Great Depression because the numbers were relatively similar in terms of job loss,” he said. “You should really look at the Great Recession (that started in late 2007) because the global integration in terms of supply chains, labor markets and financial markets are more similar.”

Expenses reimbursement for remote employees

Bruce Sarchet, a Sacramento-based employment and labor law attorney at Littler Mendelson, addressed the potential legal pitfalls employers could run into when it comes to their remote workforce.

He said that with 80% of people working from home and two-thirds of those workers wanting to continue working remotely, according to Gallup polling, a big concern for employers is expense reimbursement.

“Who pays for the internet at home? Who pays for the electricity? Who pays for the cell-phone bills, the rent?,” Sarchet said. “These are all subjects of pending wage-and-hour class actions, and you need to think these questions through in advance.”

Sarchet stressed the importance of employers having structures and systems in place for their telecommuters, which can get complicated if such an employee moves to a different city, out of state or even out of the country, he noted. For example, unemployment and workers’ compensation laws vary, while some states don’t have any income tax.

A remote worker’s location also can be challenging when it comes to hourly wages, as even some cities in California have differing rates.

“Generally speaking, the law where the worker is sitting is the law which applies,” he said. “If your worker wanders across the state line, things start to get complicated pretty quickly.”

Sarchet also addressed how human resources management is pivoting to a remote environment and getting more familiar with remote onboarding, and how supervisors are having to manage from afar without being in the same room as their staff.

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