The economic damage to Monterey County, as the Covid-19 outbreak turned into a pandemic in March and most businesses were ordered to shut down, is registering with an unprecedented spike in unemployment.

In April, the first full month of the lockdown, the unemployment rate reached 20.2 percent, according to new data released by the California Employment Development Department. This rate is the highest recorded since county-level data became available in 1990.

The number of unemployed in April was 41,800 people, out of a workforce of 207,400.

The new data also shows that Monterey County is one of hardest hit areas in California, ranking sixth among 58 counties. The only counties with higher unemployment rates are Los Angeles County and a handful of the tiniest counties, Colusa, Alpine, Mono and Plumas.

California as a whole had an unemployment rate of 16.1 percent and the nation rate stood at 14.4 percent.

The spike in Monterey County was especially pronounced because of the cyclical nature of the local economy, which relies on tourism and agriculture. In summer, employment is at its highest, but by winter there are thousands fewer jobs available as hotels and restaurants shrink for the offseason and farmers await the next season’s crops.

In September 2019, unemployment was at 3.5 percent, the lowest in Monterey County’s recorded history. Only six months later, the rate was 20.2 percent, the all-time high.

Virtually every sector of the local economy saw a downturn in employment, with agriculture losing 21,600 jobs compared to April last year, a 40-percent drop. Leisure and hospitality were down by 8,200 jobs, a 32-percent drop, and construction was down 1,700 jobs, or 26.2 percent. Even healthcare and social assistance, whose services are in relatively high demand during the pandemic, registered a loss of 1,900 jobs, a 10.5-percent decrease compared to April of last year.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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