By Susie Steimle

REDWOOD CITY — 9.7 million Americans are currently unemployed, 1.5 million of them live in California. Economists say that, even with high unemployment numbers, it’s a great time to be looking for work.

Companies that had to lay people off are hiring again. Industries devastated by the pandemic, like hospitality and child care, are desperate to find qualified workers.

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“We are definitely hiring. We have at least 10 openings,” said Karen Haas-Foletta, executive director of Footsteps Child Care.

She just opened a brand new, state-of-the-art child care facility in Redwood City but there’s one problem: she can’t staff it.

“I thought that there’d be a lot of people looking for work once we reopened it and I was very surprised to find out that there really is not,” Haas-Foletta said.

Many people who were working lower wage jobs before the pandemic aren’t ready to come back. For some, it’s not worth taking the risk when unemployment benefits set to continue through September.

“The child-care field is not a high-paying field. Also, many people have moved from the Bay Area or have re-careered during the pandemic and some have chosen to stay on unemployment,” Haas-Foletta said.

According to Employment Development Department data, Californians were hit harder by unemployment than the rest of the country. In April last year, 16 percent of Californians were unemployed compared to the U.S. high of 14.7 percent. Nationwide unemployment has dropped to 6 percent. In California, it’s still at 8.2 percent. The Bay Area is seeing some jobs come back. Most counties hover near 6 percent.

“We’re at a moment where employers are eager to hire and many jobseekers are still holding back,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed.

Kolko says a number of factors could slow the jobs recovery for the Bay Area: the high cost of living gave a lot of workers reason to relocate plus there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario going on in downtowns. Businesses want to reopen and hire but, if white-collar workers continue to stay home, it won’t pencil out.

“There are businesses that depend on people going to the office — downtown restaurants, other local services that depend on office workers spending money,” Kolko said.

Kolko says it’s a great time to be looking for work — except in the hospitality and tourism fields, which were the hardest-hit industries and may take longer to recover. Otherwise, hiring is up across a wide swath of sectors, from restaurants to tech companies and warehouses.

“There were so many layoffs, so many changes during the pandemic, that a lot of employers are now trying to catch up,” Kolko said.

On top of that, many parents (moms in particular) quit working to take on child care and won’t return to the job search for months.

“Right now, it’s probably a moment that is more favorable for jobseekers than we’ve seen in a while and there might be more jobseekers after the summer as kids go back to school,” Kolko said.

“This is your chance to take all the knowledge that you have about what you would love in your new job, what you’re good at and what you don’t want in your new job,” said Ken Lindner, a television talent agent and author of Career Choreography.

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Lindner says he’s hoping to help inspire people who lost work this past year. He’s advising job-searchers to get back to basics and network.

“Networking is really effective … and a particle in motion attracts other particles in motion — so be in motion!” Lindner said.

He says the pandemic presents a unique opportunity for job searchers to reinvent themselves.

“Make sure that you’re able to articulate all of the things that you can bring to the table to a prospective employer. It can make the difference between you getting a position or not getting a position,” Lindner said.

“You kind of have time to like, reflect and think … it’s scary at first … but then you can really, like, look inward and think: ‘what do I want to do?'” Heather Hauri said.

Hauri was a bartender and owned her own speakeasy in Oakland but had to close in July after being open for just a year.

“I just couldn’t afford to do that anymore so, sadly, I had to let it go and you don’t get any of the money back you put it into it,” Hauri said.

Now she’s trying something completely new.

“I am Berkeley’s local mail lady so I work for the United States Postal Service,” Hauri said.

She says it might not be her forever job but it’s steady and she’s enjoying it.

“I was like: ‘pay me to walk around and listen to podcasts? Where do I sign up?'” Hauri said.

She got hired quickly and says that if you’re thinking about coming back, “it’s not hard to find a job, you just have to go do it.”

Economists say the unemployment numbers are not painting the full picture here.

In San Francisco, unemployment is lower than it is elsewhere in the U.S. It’s at 5.4 percent but experts think that has more to do with people leaving the region or being pushed out rather than people who lost work having found it again.

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DISCLOSURE: Ken Lindner, the expert quoted above, is a talent agent who represents several members of KPIX