KPCC business analyst Mark Lacter talks about how a couple of industries where local employment is holding up.
Steve Julian: On Tuesdays we talk about the latest business stories with Mark Lacter. Mark, we get to do something a little different today: talk about a couple industries where local employment is holding up - for now, at least. What's the first?
Mark Lacter: First one is the entertainment business, and that might come as a surprise to those who had been warning that Hollywood jobs would be moving elsewhere. But the payroll numbers for June show almost 140,000 people employed in the movie and television industries in L.A. County. That's up more than 18 percent over the past 12 months, or roughly 22,000 jobs. It also makes show business the largest local growth industry (just to show the contrast, total employment in L.A. over that same period was down by 66,000 jobs).
Julian: Where's the evidence for this?
Lacter: Well, there’s been a pickup in the amount of location filming in the L.A. area (last year you might recall that the numbers were way down). Feature film shooting is way up - part of that is due to the state's tax credit program that essentially subsidizes certain kinds of movie productions. That made up almost a quarter of all movie location shooting during the months of April, May and June, and that’s considerable. When there's more location shooting, there's more hiring. Now, it must be said that jobs in the entertainment business can be volatile, depending on the type of project and the season. TV pilots are big early in the year, than it's the sitcoms and dramas that start shooting for the fall season. So the numbers tend to move around.
Julian: Are the numbers up across the board?
Lacter: Not entirely. The Writers Guild says employment for their members has fallen sharply, even though earnings are back up to what they were before the strike a few years back. There just isn't as much work available because producers and studios are not as willing to take as many chances on projects – and also because of those TV reality shows. But overall Hollywood is one of the few bright spots for the local economy.
Julian: The other bright spot, you say, are the ports... even with the recent clerical workers strike.
Lacter: That’s right - more people are working at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach these past few months because more cargo is coming in and going out. Container traffic last month was especially strong compared with a year earlier. Don’t forget, these are orders that were made several months ago when it looked as if the economy was going to turn around more quickly than it has. Also, lots of U.S.-made goods are being exported overseas. Actually, there was so much work at the ports in June that they needed to hire hundreds of part-time workers (they're known as casuals).
Julian: Does the extra work go beyond the ports?
Lacter: To some extent it does. Truckers, warehouses, rail traffic - all the ancillary businesses that rely on cargo coming in and going out get a boost. And employment from international trade is a very big deal - it accounts for almost 500,000 jobs in Southern California, give or take. Unfortunately, there's a big "but" in all this Steve. As we all know, consumers have not been spending all that much recently - they're worried that the economy is not turning around and that unemployment remains way too high.
Julian: What if that pattern continues?
Lacter: - and the consumer confidence numbers would suggest that it will - retailers will pull back on the amount of merchandise they bring in. And if retailers pull back, port traffic is likely to slow down and not as many workers will be needed. That's not great. And exports could start slowing down as well because of the trouble that economies overseas have been having. So it’s good news for now in terms of jobs, but container traffic will probably start slowing down in the next few months – who knows for how long. Time to hit the mall and start spending.
Julian: Mark Lacter is a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and writes business blogs at LA Observed.com and at kpcc.org.