July 21, 2024
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Watkins: California jobs boom not what it seems


The Golden State has been outpacing the U.S. in job creation over the last three years, but all is not well. Skyrocketing housing costs mean that with a few exceptions clustered around the tech boom, California’s coastal counties are retirement havens, not entrepreneurship hubs.

That’s the view from Bill Watkins, director of the California Economic Forecast at California Lutheran University, in his latest outlook for the state and nation.

“As has been the case for over a decade, the jobs were concentrated geographically and by industry,” Watkins wrote in a forecast released by CLU on Sept. 26. “The result is that the bulk of Californians did not benefit. Geographically, the job creation is along the coast. In fact, every California county with sub-5.8 percent unemployment is along the coast.”

A technology explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area has pushed employment there past its pre-recession high. San Francisco’s joblessness rate was 4.5 percent as of June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s well below California’s overall unemployment rate of 7.4 percent and the U.S. rate of 6.1 percent.

San Mateo, Santa Clara and Orange counties also have low unemployment rates as a result of robust job creation, Watkins said.

But most of the California’s coastal areas are stagnating when it comes to new job creation, Watkins said. Santa Barbara and Marin counties are “reservations for the very rich, but have anemic job growth,” he said. Unemployment in such counties is low not because there are abundant job opportunities, but because a large portion of the population is made up of wealthy retirees. In those areas, high housing costs mean that if someone loses a job, he or she will often move out of the area completely.

Meanwhile, San Luis Obispo County is “a special case,” Watkins said, with what appears to be a declining population. The county had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent as of June, according to to BLS data.

Around the state, many industries — including construction, goods manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, finance and government — have fewer jobs than before the recession, according to Watkins’ team.

“California’s political class tends to look at the jobs data —the fact that California is creating jobs at a faster-than-national rate — and declare all is well,” Watkins said. “We disagree. We think the data tell us that opportunity in California is isolated, geographically and economically. We also think that denying this reality does nothing to improve the lives of most Californians.”