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Unemployment dips below 10 percent in SLO County 

San Luis Obispo County's unemployment rate continued to tick down in July, dropping below 10 percent for the first time since the onset of COVID-19, according to state labor data released on Aug. 21.

click to enlarge ON THE RIGHT TRACK? SLO County's unemployment rate dipped to 9.9 percent in July, according to preliminary state data. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • ON THE RIGHT TRACK? SLO County's unemployment rate dipped to 9.9 percent in July, according to preliminary state data.

The 9.9 percent jobless rate compared to a 11.5 percent rate in June, a 12.7 percent rate in May, and a pandemic-high 14 percent rate in April. Statewide, unemployment stood at 13.7 percent in July, while it was 10.5 percent in the U.S.

The preliminary data showed SLO County had 13,000 unemployed workers in July—2,200 fewer than in June but still 8,500 more than a year ago, when unemployment was 3.2 percent.

"If you look at it from where we started [with COVID-19], we're in a better place," said Jim Dantona, chair of the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers of Commerce, a team of chambers from Paso Robles to Lompoc. "People are getting a little bit more outside and participating in the economy more. ... We're on the right trajectory."

A chambers-led survey of local businesses in early August captured some of those improvements—while exposing the struggles that've come after SLO County joined the state's COVID-19 watchlist.

"The rollback has pulled us down a bit," Dantona said.

About one-fifth of the more than 200 respondents said that their businesses were completely closed—up 9 percent from a June survey. Dantona said that the spike was likely a reflection of the closure orders passed down from the state for watchlist counties.

On the bright side, one-third of businesses reported "excellent/good" economic conditions—nearly twice as many as in June. Also, businesses facing a 50 percent or higher revenue decline went down nearly 20 points, and those reporting an increase in revenue went up seven points.

"People are adapting to the new environment and figuring out how to make their way through," Dantona said.

Dantona said that while the restaurant and lodging industries are starting to find their footing—SLO County hotel occupancy rates hit 60 percent in July—sectors like salons and personal care services are still crippled from COVID-19 orders.

"That's the one I feel worst for," he said of salons. "It really changes your operations to such a degree that I'm sure there's some people saying, 'It's just not worth it.'"

Going forward, the chambers' No. 1 priority is encouraging the community to fight the spread of COVID-19, so the Central Coast can get off of the state's watchlist. That would allow more businesses to open, as well as schools. Child care continues to be a huge challenge for business owners and their employees, as most schools have started the academic year with distance learning.

"[Child care] is a really hard one to solve. That is the one thing I think we've heard across the board where everyone's scratching our head," Dantona said. "If we can get off the watchlist by limiting the spread of COVID, that is going to be best overall for all of our businesses, and getting the economy rolling again for everyone." Δ

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