When California shut down its economy in March, it became a model for painful but aggressive action to counter the virus. The implicit trade-off was that a lot of upfront pain would help slow the spread, allowing the state to reopen sooner and more triumphantly than places that failed to act as decisively.
Unemployment, which was 3.9 percent in February, the lowest on record, shot up to 16.3 percent by May, compared with 13.3 percent nationwide. Container traffic at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is down about a third from a year ago, while many beaches and attractions like Disneyland were closed on July Fourth and are delaying their reopening plans. Most dispiriting is the sense that even after politicians made tough calls that Californians largely supported, the economy seems no better off.
Andrew Snow, who owns the Golden Squirrel, a restaurant and bar in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, cut his staff of 28 people to two after the pandemic hit. But thanks to takeout orders, a new line of business selling groceries and the resumption of outdoor service, he recently brought two back, and was set to bump that figure to six or eight by the July Fourth weekend.
But business is slowing again, as California is averaging about 8,000 new cases a day, about triple the level a month ago. Mr. Snow’s plans to bring back workers over the holiday weekend didn’t come to pass, and he has put further hiring on hold.
“People are scared,” he said. “The math for having more people doesn’t work out anymore.”