With a bleak joblessness picture coming into more focus Friday, and the COVID-19 death toll in California crossing the 1,000 mark, Gov. Gavin Newsom has turned a plethora of tech, industrial and policy titans, along with his four living predecessors, to advise him on how to restore the state’s economy as it continues to grapple with the raging pandemic.
Tom Steyer, the Bay Area billionaire, climate activist and former presidential candidate, will co-chair the state’s 80-member Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery alongside the governor’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary, Newsom announced at his daily press briefing Friday.
“Health and safety have to be paramount here in California, but everyone is also hurting economically,” Steyer said via video conference during the briefing. “People across the state are worried about their jobs, but they’re also worried about taking care of their families.”
In March, the Bay Area registered a loss of 27,000 jobs — the worst month for the region’s employment market since the Great Recession, according to a Friday report from the state Employment Development Department. California as a whole staggered to a loss of 99,500 jobs last month, a setback that abruptly terminated the state’s record-setting economic expansion.
The statewide unemployment rate jumped to 5.3%, a huge one-month increase from February’s all-time record-low jobless rate of 3.9%.
“We are now in a pandemic-induced recession here in the State of California,” Newsom said.
That was accompanied by more somber milestones, as Newsom reported that 95 coronavirus deaths were reported in California Thursday, the highest one-day tally since the pandemic began ravaging the state. The state also surpassed 1,000 total COVID-19 deaths Friday, according to data compiled by the Bay Area News Group.
“The worst 24-hour period since this virus attacked people in the state of California,” Newsom said. “The worst number of deaths that we have experienced. That’s humbling and it should be eye-opening to people that think we’re out of the woods.”
“It puts this moment in perspective. We need to continue practicing physical distancing,” Newsom added. “The worst mistake we can make after so much progress … is to pull back right before we’re at a point where we can start toggling back and begin a very thoughtful phased-in approach.”
Earlier this week, the governor announced six criteria the state will use to end California’s stay-at-home order, which is set to expire on May 3. Newsom said Friday that updates on the six criteria will be provided each Wednesday during his press briefings.
Among those joining Steyer and O’Leary on the Newsom’s economic recovery task force are Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Disney chairman Bob Iger, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of economic-equality advocacy nonprofit PolicyLink, California Community Foundation president Antonia Hernandez, International Longshore Workers Union President Willie Adams, and Square executive Jacqueline Reses.
Several decades of gubernatorial experience are on the task force with the membership of Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson. The task force was announced a week after the quiet departure of Lenny Mendonca, who had headed Newsom’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
Newsom meetings among task force members will convene soon, with the 80 members divided into subcategories based “a regional, sectoral effort, truly bottom-up, informed by the expertise of these advisers.” He added that he wants to implement strategies in “real time” as they are established in vetted, rather than getting a voluminous report in six months.
“We want to make this actionable. We want to make this meaningful,” he said.
Blackwell said the task force and the state’s economic recovery represent an opportunity to rectify systemic economic inequalities as they rebuild the workforce.
“For one of the first times as a nation, we have gotten a glimpse of how interconnected we are and how what happens to one happens to all,” she said Friday. “We cannot go forward divided as the nation has been, between the haves and have nots. We need to do something completely different going forward.”
Check back later for updates to this story.
Staff writer George Avalos contributed to this report.