State of region report pinpoints dwindling middle class
As any regular reader of the Pacific Coast Business Times knows, there is no shortage of experts and organizations churning out reports and studies and economic forecasts for our region.
Why, then, did the Ventura County Civic Alliance decide to add to this plenitude by turning its State of the Region Report from an every-five-years publication to a biannual one?
The answer is simple: We feel that that the State of the Region Report is unique in its scope and ambition. In addition to the economy, it covers education, the environment, culture, public health, social services and more. As such, it paints a more complete picture of life in Ventura County than any document that confines itself only to economic forecasts.
The 2015 State of the Region Report will publish May 13. As it was for the last edition, in 2013, the research for this report was conducted by a team led by California Lutheran University economics professor Dr. Jamshid Damooei.
The state of Ventura County in 2015 is, in many ways, markedly improved from two years ago. The economy improved in nearly every measurable way. The gross county product grew 0.9 percent in 2013 and was forecast to grow 0.8 percent in 2014 and 1.3 percent in 2015. Unemployment has dropped every year since 2010, and wages are rising: The median household income in 2013 was over $86,000, back to where it was before the Great Recession.
There are still reasons to be concerned about the county’s economic direction. In particular, there are signs that Ventura County is moving in the direction of Santa Barbara, a place with plenty of wealth but a dwindling middle class.
This is illustrated by our new measure of jobs in high demand. Overall, job growth is fairly healthy, but the types of jobs that are growing are not generally the types that pay well. Among the fastest growing industries are agriculture, leisure and hospitality, and services, and those are all among the lowest paid job sectors in the county. At the other end of the spectrum, the average manufacturing job in Ventura County paid around $95,000 in 2012, but the manufacturing sector has been shedding jobs for decades.
Housing is another point of potential concern. Prices have recovered slowly and somewhat unevenly from the 2008 crash, but buying a home remains out of reach for tens of thousands of Ventura County families. In the first quarter of 2014, only 29 percent of households could afford the county’s median-priced home, down from 42 percent just a year earlier.
Construction has yet to recover to anywhere near its pre-crash heights. In 2013, local governments in Ventura County granted building permits for 624 homes. That was the highest total since 2008, but it pales in comparison to the 4,000-plus permitted in 2005. Though Ventura County’s population growth is modest, it still necessitates some new homes each year.
But the fact remains that Ventura County is very well positioned for the economy of the future. Its biggest employment engines include health care and international trade, and both industries are in the midst of major growth spurts. The county exported $6.5 billion in goods in 2012, up from $4 billion in 2003. Led by Amgen, pharmaceuticals alone tallied $1 billion worth of exports 2012.
The Ventura County Civic Alliance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group operating under the umbrella of the Ventura County Community Foundation. On behalf of the Civic Alliance board, I’d like to invite you to one of the launch events for the 2015 State of the Region Report.
Join the discussion
• Wednesday, May 13: 8-10:15 a.m. at Lundring Events Center, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks. Includes breakfast.
• Monday, May 18: 3-5:15 p.m. at VCCF Nonprofit Center, 4001 Mission Oaks Blvd., Camarillo.
• Visit www.CivicAlliance.org to register or contact Emily at (805) 500-6610.
• Tony Biasotti is a freelance journalist, a former executive editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times, and the author of the Ventura County Civic Alliance State of the Region reports.