When June's employment data were released last week, some analysts quickly hailed
them as indicators of a strong California recovery from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Steve Levy, who directs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, was particularly upbeat, to wit:
"California has now posted two blockbuster months for job growth and the economy has regained some mojo for moving forward. The state added 38,300 jobs in June and 45,900 jobs in May for a two-month total of 84,200 jobs or an astounding 50 percent of the national job increase in these two months."
One assumes that Levy is not in any danger of being branded a "declinist," Gov. Jerry Brown's sobriquet for those with a less rosy outlook.
At the risk of, once again, earning such a gubernatorial epithet, let's put the jobs report and other economic data in a larger, and perhaps more realistic, context.
Nonagricultural wage and salary employment in California last month was 14.3 million, and total employment, including the self-employed, was 16.5 million. With 18.5 million in a "labor force" of potential workers, that means a little less than 2 million were jobless, a rate of 10.7 percent.
A year earlier, joblessness was a little more than 200,000 higher and the unemployment rate was 11.9 percent, so June was an improvement. But it was still the third-highest rate in the nation, nearly a third higher than the national rate.
More disturbingly, there were fewer Californians receiving paychecks in June than there were 10 years earlier, in 2002, even though the state's population has increased by 3 million, according to a compilation by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
The state may be recovering, but without a big surge, returning to where we were will take years. The LAEDC's forecast is for California to recover "slowly but steadily" with double-digit joblessness at least into 2013.
The other emerging facet of the slow recovery is that it's uneven in economic, sociological and geographic terms.
The most vigorous job growth is found, as Levy notes, in the coastal centers of technology, while inland regions and their agriculture-, manufacturing- and transportation-centered economies continue to lag.
The technology-heavy Bay Area, for instance, has jobless rates at or less than those at the national level, with Marin County at 6.6 percent, the state's lowest. But high double-digit rates are evident in inland areas, topped by a stunning 28.2 percent in agricultural, mostly Latino Imperial County.
Therefore, our slow recovery is reinforcing our evolution into a two-tiered economy, and therefore a two-tiered society. That's reality, not declinism.
THE SACRAMENTO BEE