California’s economy recently passed an important threshold: recovering the 2.7 million jobs lost during the pandemic. Fortunately, the recovery was relatively quick, faster than those following the Great Recession and the Dot Com bust. But do these regained jobs offer what California’s workers are seeking? The latest PPIC Statewide Survey on economic well-being examined Californians’ concerns about jobs in their area. In this post, we explore the availability of well-paying jobs and how residents’ perceptions align with changes in the job market over the past few years.
Statewide, about eight in ten Californians (79%) say the availability of well-paying jobs in their part of California is a problem, including about a quarter (24%) saying it is a big problem. The share of Californians saying the availability of well-paying jobs is a problem has dropped 9 percentage points since December 2020, when the state was in the midst of COVID shutdowns.
Although overwhelming majorities across the state’s regions still view the availability of well-paying jobs as a problem, there has been improvement since 2020, when somewhat fewer residents across most regions held this view. Adults living in the Inland Empire (88%) are the most likely to be concerned about well-paying jobs, and San Francisco Bay Area residents (72%) are the least likely to be concerned; Central Valley (81%), Los Angeles (77%), and Orange/San Diego (75%) residents fall in between. Regional patterns of those saying this is a big problem are similar, with Inland Empire residents (34%) more than twice as likely as Bay Area residents (16%) to say the availability of well-paying jobs is a big problem.
These perceptions reflect the reality of how jobs have changed during the pandemic. Because job loss was concentrated in low-wage sectors, the jobs recovery also skews in that direction. When we examine all nonfarm employment, low-wage sector jobs increased 17% since October 2020, while middle- and high-sector jobs increased 6% and 9%, respectively. Statewide, the mix of jobs based on wage levels is similar to what it was before the pandemic: the share of California jobs in low-wage sectors was 32% in both October 2019 and October 2022.
However, the nature of job loss and recovery varies across regions, in ways that mirror the perspectives uncovered in PPIC’s survey. Although the Inland Empire saw the largest job growth during the pandemic, this region also has the lowest share of employment in high-wage industries (information, financial activities, and professional and business services) and the highest share in low-wage sectors (trade and transportation, leisure and hospitality, and other services). Compared to pre-pandemic, Inland Empire jobs in low-wage sectors grew 14%, while jobs in high-wage sectors grew 7% and those in middle-wage sectors grew 2%. This skewed growth means that the current job mix in the Inland Empire has shifted toward lower-wage sectors (from 39% in October 2019 to 42% today).
The only other region that has seen growth in its share of low-wage sector work is the Central Valley, whose residents ranked second highest in terms of concern about well-paying jobs. Central Valley jobs have grown at the second highest rate (2% between October 2019 and today) among the five regions examined here. But jobs in low-wage sectors grew faster (5%) and high-wage sector work shrank (by 1%).
At the other extreme, in the San Francisco Bay Area, employment skews toward higher-wage sectors (32% of total jobs) more so than in other regions. While overall jobs in the Bay Area have not grown during the pandemic, employment in high-wage sectors did grow (5%), while employment in low-wage sectors went down (7%).
Concerns about pay take on elevated importance amid persistently high inflation and California’s high cost of living. About a quarter of Californians say concerns about well-paying jobs make them consider moving (5% would move elsewhere in California, 23% would move outside the state), a share that has remained similar since 2020. These choices will shape the state’s future: who resides here and the extent to which new jobs can help Californians advance economically are critical to the vitality of the state and its standing as one of the biggest economies in the world.