The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

Unemployment: Is it ever gonna get better in Southern California?

Last week, unemployment claims edged above 400,000 again, after falling slightly below that number. Why is this a (potentially) big deal? Because 400,000 is a bit of a magic unemployment number: Fall below it, and you could be on the road to recovery; rise above it, and you could be looking at an economy headed for a stall. Or a double-dip recession. In any case, misery.

What does this mean in Southern California? Nothing good, given that our unemployment rate is running far above the national average of 9.1 percent. In Los Angeles County, it was at 12.4 percent in June, according to the latest batch of statistics released by the BLS.

Angelenos might want to consider themselves lucky, however. As the chart below shows, Riverside and San Bernadino counties have it much worse (the graphic comes from Google’s very useful interactive Public Data Explorer).

Soooo... What the heck is SoCal going to do to crack this problem? Well, Gov. Jerry Brown just appointed a former Bank of America executive, Michael Rossi, to be the state’s “jobs czar.” Now, the words “Bank of America” and “jobs czar” in the same sentence might not fill you with confidence -- and could send you scurrying for cover.

However, the new job czar was greeted with joyful noises in certain quarters. This is from the L.A. Times:

Business leaders welcomed Brown's announcement.

"Mr. Rossi's long and varied career as a businessman and investor will serve the governor well in identifying barriers to job creation and addressing the perceptions and reality of our difficult business climate," said a statement from California Chamber of Commerce head Allan Zaremberg.

Maybe “job creation” isn’t really the right concept here. More like “job restoration,” as hundreds of thousands of workers in California lost their jobs in the construction industry after the housing bubble burst. Unfortunately, as the housing market in both the state and the SoCal region continues to decline, it’s safe to say that those construction jobs won’t be back any time soon.

Outside of that, solutions to the unemployment problem seem pretty vague. Again, the L.A. Times:

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said Wednesday that the governor would draw from the renewable-energy jobs plan he offered during his campaign and "bring some of these ideas into sharper focus in coming weeks." He said Brown would work with Rossi and the Legislature to streamline business regulations and eliminate duplicative agencies.

It’s not really clear how the streamlining and eliminating would create (or restore) jobs. But what about the renewable-energy plan? Projections suggest that it could be worth 500,000 jobs. And how many of those might come to the Southland? Well, lots. Consider the map below, courtesy of a Green economy utility created by the Environmental Defense Fund. Let's call it a start.