Long Beach unemployment reached 20.9% in mid May, a 0.3% increase over the previous month, which was already the highest level in the city’s history, according to officials.


The data from the California Employment Development Department highlights the persisting struggle of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. But the true unemployment rate in Long Beach is actually higher, according to Nick Schultz, executive director of Pacific Gateway.


“Many residents are not being included in the civilian labor force count as they anticipate their job returning with reopening and therefore are not actively looking for work,” Schultz said. “Those individuals are still collecting unemployment insurance.”


From April 12 to June 12, 13,300 residents were removed from the city’s labor force count, bringing the total labor force down to 220,900. So, while the city is reporting 46,100 Long Beach residents are out of work, the true figure is likely higher, Schultz said, noting that he expects official unemployment figures to increase further before they begin to decline.


In an email, Mayor Robert Garcia said unemployment is a serious challenge perpetuated by the fact that COVID-19 remains a serious health threat, but he said the numbers should begin to decline as more businesses reopen.


“As the economy slowly reopens, we expect more folks to get safely back to work,” Garcia said.


Due to strict health orders, Schultz said the hospitality and retail sectors have been hardest hit by job losses.


In May 2019, Long Beach’s unemployment reached a historic low of 4%. The previous highest level of unemployment was in July 2010, when 14.3% of the workforce was jobless in the midst of the Great Recession.


Statewide, unemployment declined 0.5% to 15.9% in May after hitting a historic high in April, according to data released by the California Employment Development Department.


Meanwhile, nationwide, total payroll employment rose by 2.5 million jobs in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment in the U.S. decreased to 13.3% in May, down from 14.7% in April.


The national unemployment rate remains at its highest level since at least 1948, while the state unemployment rate is the highest since at least 1976, according to state and federal data.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.