Explaining Southern California's economy

Starbucks 'Barbucks' to serve alcohol, Southern California will be sipping beer and wine

Customers queue for coffee at Starbucks

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Ready for your Pinot Grande? Starbucks, the giant coffee retailer, has been undertaking a transformational experiment for the past two years. Back in 2010, on its home turf in Seattle, it began serving beer and wine and premium food in a setting that was meant to evoke a soothing nighttime experience more than a peppy morning wakeup call. 

Now "Barbucks" is coming to the Southland. We don't yet know how many locations will serve alcohol along with caffeine, but we do know that the option will be available — and that Starbucks will be charging more-or-less typical prices. Wines will range from $7-9 a glass, while beer will clock in at a fairly modest $5.

We already know that Starbucks can print money, so to speak, by transforming coffee beans, milk, syrup, and other ingredients into $4 and $5 beverages. The beauty of wine and beer is that it requires much less labor to serve than producing a latte.

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Self-employment won't save California from jobs crisis

Job Fair At Marlin Stadium Draws Many Seeking Employment

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

First, the good news: unemployment continues to fall in California, to 11.1 percent in December from 11.3 in November. Basically, California is beginning to add jobs at a decent clip — the pace is faster than the nation as a whole. However, the state was clobbered far worse the rest of the country during the downturn, so our unemployment rate remains above the national level of 8.5 percent.

Now the bad news: for a lot of people to get a job these days, they have to create it — themselves! This is from the LA Times:

Self-employment is often the only option for workers with limited education and skills, suggested Christopher Thornberg, principal at Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consultancy.

"They're struggling, trying to get ahead," he said. "For every guy we see selling fruit on the corner somewhere, there's another guy working as a DJ doing sweet 16 parties and probably making a good dime."

That entrepreneurial spirit is very Californian. "It's healthy," said economist Jerry Nickelsburg with the UCLA Forecast. "People stop looking for others to provide jobs and start using their own creativity."

But this surge of self-employment also underscores fraying job security and declining wages and benefits in many industries. Some hard-pressed employers are shedding full-time workers and hiring independent contractors to do the same jobs for lower pay.

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Megaupload shutdown: Who needs SOPA?

MegaUpload

Screenshot from the MegaUpload music video

USA Today reports in the federal government's shutdown of file-sharing site Megaupload yesterday:

The five-count indictment, which alleges copyright infringement as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering and racketeering, described a site designed specifically to reward users who uploaded pirated content for sharing, and turned a blind eye to requests from copyright holders to remove copyright-protected files.

It was unsealed a day after technology companies staged an online blackout to protest two related bills in Congress that would crack down on sites that use copyrighted materials and sell counterfeit goods. Congressional leaders agreed Friday to indefinitely delay action on those bills — Stop Online Priacy Act in the House and Protect IP Act in the Senate.

Critics contend SOPA and PIPA don't so much protect the rights of filmmakers, musicians, writers and artists as they do preserve an antiquated film and music distribution system.

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Visual Aid: Troubling jobs trends in Los Angeles

This is one of those charts that shows the power of great graphics. In this case, the information represented here clearly summarizes the jobs crisis in Los Angeles Country following the Great Recession.

The chart comes from the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs' (PBI) 2011 Los Angeles State of the City Report. The individual circles provide a sense of scale for that industry — federal, state, and local government is a lot bigger than social services — while the two axis plot job growth or decline against wages. The dotted line demarcates what the PBI considers a sustaining wage, in this case $44,000 a year.

These are scary circles. Private education and health care are the only sectors that are complete above the zero level. Pretty much the entire remainder of the economy is below the line. And as you can see, there's a whole high-income cluster on the far right, the $80-100,000 region.

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Will his background in private equity undermine Austin Beutner's LA mayoral race message?

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Mark Sullivan/Getty Images for The Broad Stage

File: Austin Beutner on stage during the preview of The Broad Stage 2010-2011 schedule at The Broad Stage on April 22, 2010 in Santa Monica.

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Austen Beutner gave a Town Hall Los Angeles speech yesterday at Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Downtown LA. The core topic? Getting "Los Angeles back to work."

In the speech, Beutner rolled out a kind of plan for a plan, highlighting areas he intends to focus on to rebuild the city's economy, which is currently facing a budget deficit of something like $200-$250 million and unemployment in LA County of 11.5 percent, three points higher than the national rate of 8.5 percent.

It's just an outline, although Beutner characterized it as an "ambitious agenda." The candidate — who came to city government as a "jobs czar" from a very successful career in banking and private equity, as well as in the Clinton Administration — zeroed in on six key job-creating areas: trade; technology and education; tourism; manufacturing; transportation; and small business.

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