A new report says Kern County’s economy weathered the pandemic better than most other major U.S. cities, although local small businesses in general have taken a huge blow in terms of closings and revenue.
Analysis by financial advisory website SmartAsset.com found that Kern’s consumer spending was virtually unchanged between January 2020 and April 2021, while the total number of job postings increased by about a third during that time and local employment levels increased during the 15-month period Has improved during the study period.
Overall, the study concluded that the county’s economic performance ranked 14th among the 49 largest cities in the country during the pandemic, based on conditions prior to the arrival of COVID-19 compared to this spring.
One clear lesson from the study is that local small businesses have been “absolutely wiped out” by the pandemic, Cal State Bakersfield economist Richard Gearhart said via email on Monday.
He wrote that the study suggests that people fearful of contracting the virus scaled back their social interactions significantly during the pandemic, and that this hesitation affected small businesses.
Given that Kern ranks second in the top 20 best performing economies in terms of small business shutdowns, Gearhart also claimed that non-government factors contributed to the weakening of the local economy.
If the study had put farm jobs aside, Gearhart wrote, then Kern likely would not have done as well compared to other major cities. He said the same could likely be said of Fresno, which ranked second on SmartAsset’s report.
Salt Lake City scored the highest. Only three California cities made it into the top 20, including Sacramento, which came in 15th, just behind Bakersfield. Sacramento fared much better than Bakersfield in terms of increased consumer spending, but fared much worse on job postings.
The report examined three areas of economic performance in January 2020 compared to April 2021: consumer spending; Number of small businesses in operation as well as the income these businesses generate; and employment changes as measured by changes in the total number of job advertisements and the number of unemployed registered by the government.
Kern’s consumer spending fell by less than a tenth of 1 percent in the period under review. The report said the county’s small business population declined 35 percent during that time, and the revenue generated by these businesses decreased 28 percent.
In terms of employment, Kern did relatively well, with job advertisements increasing by 32 percent. According to the report, the county’s unemployment rate improved by 5.6 percent during the study period.
The researchers combined these different factors to create a ranking based on how far above or below the mean of 49 cities they were.
Gearhart said the change in consumer spending seen in the SmartAsset report isn’t necessarily good or bad. Perhaps it’s positive, as it reflects local resilience, he wrote, but it could also suggest that there isn’t much freely disposable income available locally.
In addition, he theorized that the small change in local spending levels reflected how government recovery incentives were spent. It could be that such local payments were used to repay debts rather than buying goods or services to help boost the local economy, he noted.