California labor force down 1.1M workers compared to pre-pandemic level

The most recent labor report showed, once again, there are about 1.1 million Californians able to return to work but choosing not to. It's a trend that has been happening in the Golden State since last February. High unemployment continues, even though there are jobs around everywhere.

A year and a-half ago, with unemployment at a low, low 3.5%, the steep pandemic caused economic downturn began. By August of 2020, 14.8% of U.S. civilian workers were jobless. 

A month later, more than 30 million Americans were receiving some form of employment benefits, though the nation has gotten back to 5.2% unemployed. But, the state of California lags at 7.6 percent. 

In human terms, there are more than 1.1 million fewer Californians working today than were employed pre-pandemic. 

"We still continue to hear from employers, we can't find workers and we're seeing a continued slow return to work; slow to seek out jobs and particularly in the leisure and hospitality field." said labor lawyer and former EDD Director Michael Bernick.

The Delta variant that started a resurgence in COVID infections is a major factor in folks deciding to stay home, plus a huge lack of childcare. 

"This is very different in the recoveries, at least that I have been involved in since 1980; in which demand for workers took time to develop, but workers were ready to come back. In this recovery, it's less of a demand issue as much of a supply issue," said Bernick.

According to, Americans still regard the pandemic as the number one threat to the economy over the next six months. That's twice the number of those worried about the divisive political environment. Inflation and the loss of purchasing power came in a distant third.

"That has led to workers trying to overcome the shock of how quickly COVID destroyed so many businesses, jobs and careers, not returning." said Bernick. "Seems to have led, at least a segment of Californian workers to reconsider, 'Do I want to go back to what I'm doing?'"

That has led more people to seek out affordable trade schools and junior colleges, while others are considering going out of their own; a hallmark of California's long entrepreneurial culture.