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‘We’ll get there, but it’s going to take some time’: Economists express cautious optimism for recovery

The local economy is slowly recovering despite continued limitations on a variety of sectors, and the effects of the health pandemic may be felt for years, according to economists who spoke at a forum Thursday. 

While some sectors, such as construction, have seen significant gains in business activity and revenues, others continue to suffer, putting a damper on the economy.

The first virtual rendition of the Long Beach Quarterly Economic Forum on Thursday offered insights into the city’s economic standing before the pandemic, the impact lockdown orders have had on local business revenues and employment, and some predictions for the recovery process. 

The local economists expressed optimism, with some caveats.

“Just about every sector of the economy has recovered jobs at this point,” Robert Kleinhenz, founder and CEO of Kleinhenz Economics, told attendees. 

Further, many job losses are still expected to be temporary at this point, although Kleinhenz cautioned that a prolonged lockdown would likely lead to more permanent closures, in turn resulting in lasting job losses.

Because of its demographics, Long Beach has historically been hit harder by periods of economic decline than Los Angeles County and the state overall. 

Roughly three-quarters of the city’s workforce does not hold a college degree, making them especially vulnerable to job losses, according to Seiji Steinmetz, chair of the Cal State Long Beach economics department.

Food workers, retail associates and administrative staff have made up a significant portion of the city’s unemployment claims, Steinmetz noted. 

While being at a higher risk for job loss and economic devastation because of the area’s comparatively low average household income, North Long Beach has seen a significant increase in overall business revenues during the pandemic. Bixby Knolls has seen a similar trend, albeit at a much lower rate. 

Steinmetz attributed this development to an overall increase in grocery purchases driven by limited options for indoor dining and drinking. Bixby Knolls is home to a number of large grocery stores, while North Long Beach is rich in small stores selling liquor and basic household items.

Grocery stores have boded well under the current circumstances, but retail overall has taken a significant hit, according to data presented by Kleinhenz and Steinmetz. Other sectors of the local economy that have been particularly hurt by the pandemic are health care and social services, as many practices closed for an extended period of time; accommodation and food services, personal care and grooming.

“Even as we look at these numbers with some hope, the fact of the matter is that sectors of the economy are still struggling to return to some semblance of normalcy,” Kleinhenz said. “We need them to come back for us to feel like our community is whole again.”

The path towards full economic recovery will likely take several years, Kleinhenz noted. 

“We know that the recovery is occurring, even as we continue to receive negative news,” he said. “We’ll get there, but it’s going to take some time.”

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