Explaining Southern California's economy

Visual Aid: Why self-employment isn't just for the young

This chart is from a Bureau of Labor Statistics working paper that was released in 2008, titled "Self-Employment Transitions among Older American Workers with Career Jobs." I know that's from a few years back — and the data itself is drawn from the 1997-2004 period — but you can see a clear trend: As workers age, they increasingly consider moving into self-employment. Particularly men. Some of this probably has to do with ongoing financial needs in retirement. But the data comes from a study of people aged 51-61, so the "transition" from full-time work to self-employed work is taking place well before the typical retirement age. 

Now connect this trend with what Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, has recently been saying about the changing nature of work in the Atlantic. You can then see that the "Gig Economy" isn't just about younger workers who are stuggling to find full-time jobs. It's also about older workers who are seeking new ways to work, either out of desire or necessity.

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Solyndragate: Picking winners will always be risky business

There's now pretty much a frenzy of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on with the Solyndra controversy. It boils down to essentially two core positions:

  • Solyndra was too risky a bet for the DOE to pony up a $535-million loan guarantee. The Atlantic's Megan McArdle has been grappling with this one, in strenuous detail, while somewhat evading the question of whether Solyndra needed to spend as much money as possible in a short period of time, to both achieve economies of scale and outrun a collapse in the price of silicon (Solyndra's solar panels didn't use this material).
  • Solyndra was a risky bet, but in the face of $30 billion in Chinese solar investment, the U.S. needs to leverage its innovation advantage to capture its share of the solar market. The government needs to subsidiize some of the risks and be willing tolerate failure in and effort to build up a new Green energy sector. I'm on this side, as is Wired's Jonah Lehrer and the New York Times' Joe Nocera. 

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Reportings: Yahoo takeover; Foxy Amazon; grocery contract; bad housing market

Fred Schuers ponders the various Yahoo-takeover scenarios: "No investor is more of a threat than hedge-fund powerhouse Daniel Loeb, who has recently acquired 5.2 percent of Yahoo's stock. Loeb has gone after companies he thinks are mis-managed before, but the level of vitriol -- and cash -- he’s throwing at the Yahoo board shows that he’s deadly earnest this time." (The Wrap)

 

Fresh off its sales-tax deal with California, Amazon lines up more streaming options from 20th Century Fox. The LA Times, unfortunately, has no details on the money involved. But then again, neither does anybody else. "News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox has reached a licensing deal that adds about 2,000 films and television shows from its library to Amazon.com's instant streaming service, bringing to 11,000 the number of titles available through Amazon Prime." (LAT)

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Visual Aid: California v. Texas on energy use

 

Gotta love Google Public Data Explorer and it's ability to generate cool charts. I like to keep track of how California is doing economically with respect to our big U.S. rival these days, Texas. So I checked out some data on energy expediture as a share of GDP — how much the U.S., California, and Texas are spending, out of all the money we rake in, on power, propulsion, and so on. You can see a big trend here: our energy expenditure peaked in 1981, declined for a long time, then began to climb back up in the 2000s before falling sharply again after the financial crisis in 2008. But look at where Texas has always been. Well above the national percentage, and waaayyy above the California numbers. I guess you could say that Texas, energy-wise, has always been a lot more expensive to power than either California or the nation as a whole.

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Solyndragate: The problem with solar isn't growth, it's scale

At KPCC's Pacific Swell blog, my colleague Molly Peterson has a snappy take on the aftershocks of Solyndragate: SolarCity isn't likely to get a $274-million DOE loan guarantee is was counting on to install solar panels at more than 100 U.S. military bases.

In the post, she refers to a memo that was sent out by the Sierra Club, supporting the solar industry. Here's a taste:

Earlier this week, The Solar Foundation, in partnership with GreenLMI and Cornell University, released its National Solar Jobs Census 2011.  The Census reported incredibly impressive growth in the solar industry – nearly 7% from August 2010 to August 2011.  The solar industry’s growth is even more impressive when compared with the fossil fuel energy industry, which shrank by 2%. 

No one disputes that the solar business is growing. But as Solyndra found out, growth isn't always enough. You also need scale. Because without scale, you're going to have much more trouble attracting high levels of outside investment — enough to match the many billions that governments like China are throwing at their solar industry. And in Solyndra's case, you need to ramp up sales to the point where you can overcome falling prices driven by Chinese manufactures flooding the market with cheap solar panels. 

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