Explaining Southern California's economy

California high-speed rail is dead. No it isn't. Yes it is. No it isn't...

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California High Speed Rail Authority

An artist's rendering of California's high speed rail.

At Slate, Will Oremus says high-speed rail is a goner. And not just in California, but everywhere. Of course, everywhere but California, the "speed" part of high-speed was questionable:

The Europeans define high-speed trains as those that travel at speeds of 155 miles per hour or more (or 125 mph for tracks that are upgraded, rather than newly built). Wisconsin’s proposed $823 million Milwaukee-to-Madison line was to reach 110 mph, at most, in between stops in cities such as Brookfield and Oconomowoc. Ohio’s version was even slower, with trains on an upgraded freight-rail track topping out at 79 mph. With stops, the trip from Cincinnati to Cleveland would have been significantly slower by rail than by car. Who would ride such a thing?...
For all that, a line in California, connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, still seemed to stand a chance. Unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the country, the California line would be true, dedicated high-speed rail, with trains running up to 220 mph. It would connect two metropolises of seven-million-plus people that are just far enough apart to make a drive unappetizing (six hours sans traffic) and a plane hop unwieldy. And the plans were already in place; the state had been working on a high-speed rail line for decades and lacked only the money to execute it. It was, it seemed, the perfect showcase for the Obama stimulus. This was more than just digging holes in the ground—it was putting people to work building something that the country needed anyway. Not only is California’s Interstate 5 congested and getting worse, but air traffic between San Francisco and Los Angeles is beginning to be a problem as well. Without high-speed trains, the state will need to build more highways, more airports, or both.

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California economy: When is a recovery not a recovery?

The UCLA Anderson Forecast, covering the fourth quarter of 2011 and looking forward through the fourth quarter of 2013, came out yesterday. KPCC's Brian Watt provided a report on air, and now I've had a chance to dig into at least some of the forecast. I'll start with the California section, presented by Anderson Forecast economist Jerry Nickelsburg. 

You'll remember that in the previous Anderson Forecast, Nickelsburg explained that California has broken into two distinctive economic regions: a recovering coast and a stagnating inland zone. Here's how I put it in the post I wrote back in September:

Since the financial crisis, two California economies have emerged. On the coast, there's growth. Inland, there's near-stagnation. You can easily see this expressed in the Los Angeles region's unemployment numbers. LA is bad, at at 12.7 percent. But Riverside and San Bernadino counties are far worse, at 15.1 and 14.3, respectively.

The industries that are creating jobs in California are also disproportionately located on the coast. Inland, the blast wave of the the housing bust is still being felt, with industries like construction shedding jobs.

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A conversation with Michael Rossi at Drucker Day

The video above is my conversation with Michael Rossi, whom Gov. Jerry Brown asked earlier this year to serve as Senior Advisor for Jobs and Business Development. Rossi's is an impressive guy with a formidable background in banking and business. During the course of our talk, which took place last month at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at the Claremont Graduate University, we discussed the California jobs crisis, Rossi's personal story, and some of his ideas for how California can — and will — remain competitive in the 21st century.

Be sure to take note of the moment when Rossi asks the audience what was the best infrastructure investment California ever made. The answer (hint: it's not a bridge or highway) says a lot about his priorities and what he believes is necessary to become a successful individual.

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Visual Aid: The awful story of income in California after the financial crisis

The above chart from the Federal Reserve tells two amazing stories about California and money. As you can see, per capita personal income — all income in the state at a given time, divided by the population at that time — moved on an ever-ascending upward trajectory from the Great Depression on, right through numerous postwar recessions, until...

The financial crisis of 2008-09, when it fell off a cliff, pretty much for the first time since the Fed started keeping track of this data. Personal income is now recovering, but it still hasn't returned to trend. 

So California incomes aren't as recession-proof as they once were. And if a new trend asserts itself, with incomes falling with each new recession, life in the Golden State will be a lot bumpier than it has been in the past. But the drama in the chart is really all about what happened up to 2008. California was a good place to go, if you wanted you income to go up, up, up.

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California budget: If you think this year looks bad, just wait until 2012

California Governor Jerry Brown Unveils State Pension Reform Program

Max Whittaker/Getty Images

California Governor Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. Gov. Brown proposed 12 major reforms for state and local pension systems that he claims would end abuses and reduce taypayer costs by billions of dollars.

It's unclear what sort of unicorns-and-moneybags fairyland that officials in California were living in when they projected a $500-billion surplus in the 2011-12 budget. Against 12-percent unemployment and exposure to the housing crisis that ranks right alongside Nevada and Florida, any surplus at all was political and economic wishful thinking. So now come the trigger cuts — $2 billion of 'em.

Education will bear the brunt of this, if lawmakers can't figure out how to dodge the cuts. Not that education hasn't already been pummeled: according to Education Week, K-12 statewide has endured $18 billion is cuts over the past five years. The University of California and Cal State systems will also take it on the chin. Education Week says that some districts are in better shape than others, based on budget planning. But there are some time bombs out there, such as San Diego Unified.

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