Harry Truman famously asked for a one-handed economist who would not equivocate when making forecasts. The latest Ventura County prognostications make the former president look very smart indeed.
For California Lutheran University economist Bill Watkins, the future is negative. According to his Ventura County outlook on March 29, the county lost jobs last year, it will continue to lose well-paying positions, and young people are fleeing the county for work in other states.
Not so fast, countered independent forecaster Mark Schniepp, who is based in Santa Barbara. Ventura County likely added jobs, perhaps largely among the self-employed, and the worst of the recession is fading into the rear view mirror, he said, after giving his read on the state-released data. That’s partly because self-employed people frequently form new companies and new companies account for the majority of job growth nationwide.
The dueling nature of these forecasts underscores a particularly difficult problem that California, and especially Southern California, faces in digging out from the recession. Regions most deeply affected by the financial collapse and housing meltdown are going to grow jobs at a painfully slow pace for years and perhaps decades to come.
Speaking on CNBC on April 3, Morgan Stanley chief economist Vince Reinhart, a leading researcher on financial collapses and their long-term effects, said that after such a collapse it can take 15 years or more before labor markets fully recover. This was the case in the 1940s as the economy recovered from the Great Depression, during the time when Truman made his now famous request.
Stepping back a bit from our dueling prognosticators, it seems clear that Ventura County, and indeed the rest of the region, faces a long slow climb out of a jobless valley. Our situation isn’t as bleak as that in the Inland Empire or the Central Valley. But the upside is limited by no-growth policies, the relatively high cost of housing and the amount of red tape involved in starting a business or getting a building permit.
Two additional things might be said about Ventura County. First, without more major tourism attractions, the county is likely to miss out on the boom times in that sector that are having a positive impact in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Second, Ventura County’s economy is heavily dependent on what’s going on in Los Angeles County and, to be blunt, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been very slow off the mark in promulgating a growth and development agenda.
We agree that Ventura County faces a long, tough slog ahead, but argue that the future isn’t as bleak as Watkins suggests. And we’ll stand by that conclusion.