Pandemic cost Kern economy $1.7 billion in 2020, but positive signs emerging

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — One-point-seven billion dollars — that’s the estimated cost to the Kern County economy of the Covid-19 recession. Some industries held steady and some actually made significant gains during 2020. But, dragged down by devastated hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors, the overall picture was grim.

But there’s some good news too.

Well, good and bad.

First, the bad. Speaking Saturday at Kern County Economic Summit, an annual report card-slash-forecast, CSU Bakersfield economics professor Richard Gearhart said the past year’s flat wages are an indication it’ll take some time to pull out of this recession brought on by the worldwide pandemic.

“We probably should expect a long and slow recovery,” Gearhart said. “If we get back faster that’s great but we shouldn’t expect that to be the new normal.”

Job loss was bad enough — and Kern’s unemployment rate remains high at about 11 percent — even those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs during the worst of the pandemic had a hard time, with just a 2 percent overall income gain — and only 1 percent for those in high-wage jobs.

But Beacon Economics founder Christopher Thornberg said jobs in restaurants and bars are likely to return soon as consumers start spending their government stimulus money — and in fact jobs in hospitality and leisure have jumped 3.3 percent since February, even as the overall Kern unemployment rate increased slightly. That, Thornberg said, is an indication that this recession — though a deep one — might actually be a short one.

“It’s going to be one of the most rapid recoveries we’ve ever seen,” Thornberg said The baseline forecast — It’s going to be 5, 6 percent Q1 and 11 percent Q2. We’re going to be back on a long run trend beginning of next year.”

History has a way of repeating itself, so it may be instructive to remember that America came out of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic with such pent-up economic energy, the decade that followed was dubbed the Roaring 20s.

We’re a long way from roaring, but it is the 20s, and there’s growing optimism that normalcy — another word from the 1920s — might almost be at hand.

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