Illustration by Justin Martinez.
Illustration by Justin Martinez.

A phrase frequently uttered across the country has shown its claws in the Santa Cruz job market recently, as firms make cuts and businesses endure the economic burn.

“These are tough times,” said professor Daniel Friedman, director of the UC Santa Cruz undergraduate economics program.

Santa Cruz, which has been hit particularly hard by the economic recession that has plagued the nation, has seen widespread unemployment since the economy’s initial demise last December.

According to a monthly data release from the Employment and Development Department of the California government, the Santa Cruz unemployment rate was 13.6 percent for the month of March 2009. This figure is 2 percent higher than the statewide average and 4.6 percent higher than the national average. The number has increased over the last few months and is higher than last year’s estimate for the period, at 8.3 percent.

As a result, over 20,000 citizens are unemployed in Santa Cruz County. Throngs of job-seekers have subsequently entered into a shaky job market that does not have enough positions to accommodate the influx.

“When we do open for public recruitment, we are getting a higher response than normal,” said Lisa Sullivan, president of the city’s human resources department.

“First of all, the city is not hiring as much as we normally do because of our own budget and economic issues,” Sullivan said. “One of our strategies is we are limiting the application period to the first hundred applications received. It gives us an opportunity to screen.”

Cuts are being made across the board, but a few industries have been spared from the financial downturn.

“Food products tend not to go down as much in a recession,” said Bill Tysseling, director of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. “Agriculture is doing pretty well right now compared to everything else. There is always a continuing need for people to eat.”

The hardest hit right now is retail, Tysseling said, as people do not spend as much in leisure industries when money is tight. Retail employment is down 20 percent compared to last year, and the arts, entertainment and recreation industry is down 16.7 percent since last March, according to the monthly labor force data report for Santa Cruz County. 

There is not much hope from officials in Santa Cruz for improvement in the coming months — at least not yet.

Tysseling does not expect the economy to begin improving during the current year.

“Truth is, it’s going to be a hard time for the next 18 months,” he said.

People struggling have found support through numerous community organizations. The Second Harvest Food Bank, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are just a few organizations that have been responsive to the needy, Tysseling said.

UCSC economics professor Friedman said, in response to nongovernmental organizations’ role in lending support, “A lot of things people are doing are right.” 

In spite of the hardship, there is a silver lining for some companies.

“If you’re in a business not hurt as badly, this is a good opportunity to get great talent,” Friedman said. “You should be hiring.”