Led by “off the charts” growth in the information technology, banking and finance sectors, Santa Barbara County is outpacing California when it comes to economic growth.
That’s according to UCSB Economic Forecast Project economist Peter Rupert, who delivered the outlook for the county at the group’s annual economic summit at the Granada Theatre on May 8.
While financial services still make up the largest jobs sector in the county, employment in the industry has declined, Rupert said. Professional business services and IT, which saw output grow by 63 percent, are now leading the way.
Rupert predicted that Santa Barbara County will see consistent GDP growth over the next year. Employment and home prices have already rebounded strongly, he noted. “We’re starting to see movement across all these sectors,” he said.
But he also delivered a note of caution: Looking forward, low-wage jobs may lead the way. Among job sectors that are growing, the largest is for farm workers and laborers, Rupert said, citing estimates from the California Employment Development Department. Also growing is the labor market for personal care aids, retail sales clerks, cashiers, landscaping workers, food preparation and service workers, waiters and waitresses, office clerks and maids.
“Almost all of the jobs that are going to be created over the next seven years are below the median wage,” Rupert said. “There aren’t that many CEO jobs, [but] there are lots of jobs for cashiers and landscapers.”
And that raises concerns about housing affordability. The median home price in Santa Barbara County is $496,200, according to the real estate website Zillow. That compares with $408,300 in California and $169,800 nationwide.
But about half of all jobs in California going forward are only going to require a high-school diploma, Rupert said, and only about 10 percent will require a bachelor’s degree. “Working on changing that job structure is not a simple thing to do,” he said.
The fast-growing occupation in Santa Barbara County that earns above the median wage is nursing, he noted, followed by elementary-school teachers.
The average home price in Santa Barbara County was $639,000 in 2005, Rupert said. Home prices in both the county and California “crashed like crazy” during the housing collapse, he said. The bottom-tier homes, averaging around $429,000 in the county, dropped the most, while the million-dollar-plus homes didn’t see nearly as severe a price correction.
Since the end of the recession, home prices in Santa Barbara County have rebounded strongly — about 20 percent — with the growth spurt tapering off in September 2013. In the case of the the priciest homes prices are coming back “a little higher” than even their pre-recession peak, Rupert noted. But many homeowners in North Santa Barbara County still have negative equity in their houses, while about 6 percent of mortgages in the ritzy enclave of Montecito are delinquent.