Friday, May 20, 2011

Unemployment Friday: CA down to 11.9%, but other states dropping faster

In today's report, some people are trying to make something positive of dropping below the 12% unemployment threshold to 11.9%.  They shouldn't get too excited.

What would be exciting is if we were seeing the kind of declines seen in places like Michigan and Nevada.  Unemployment used to be higher in Michigan than in California, but it is down to 10.2% there from a peak in the 14s, and Nevada is down to 12.5%, dropping 0.7% in a single month and it also peaked in the 14s.  If these trends continue, Nevada may drop below California and leave California with the highest unemployment rate in the U.S.  And then we will see a new wave of stories on California's downfall.

However, unemployment rate movement is being driven more by labor force changes than employment growth.  Michigan and the auto industry is rebounding, but it's labor force is also shrinking, down 6% over 4 years.  So, it is recovering a little better than California, but not as much as the unemployment rate would lead you to believe.

And Nevada.  The labor force there has declined by 4% over the past year, and that is what has driven the unemployment rate from 14.9% to 12.5% in a year, although tourism and the casino's are slowly picking up, employment is still down.

So when California's unemployment rate becomes tops in the nation later this year, it is an indicator that our economy stinks and recovery is lackluster.  But it also means that people aren't giving up on California's job market (whether by moving or leaving the workforce) at the same pace as Nevada or Michigan.

Within California, some of the big inland areas like Sacramento and Riverside are showing large labor force declines too, but only about half that seen in Nevada.  This month's job report mostly reflects the same patterns.  Silicon Valley, Disneyland and Hollywood are recovering.  The housing market continues to keep inland areas down; although there continues to be signs in the Valley of solid growth in agriculture, transportation/logistics, and food manufacturing; just not enough to overcome the housing and local government crash.

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