Pause Mechanism Does Not Ease Discomfort Over Minimum Wage Hike

Minimum WageAs Governor Jerry Brown signs the new minimum wage increase law this morning, many in the business community are studying the proposed temporary pause mechanism built into the bill that is supposed to reassure businesses. It does not.

The mechanism is power in the hands of a governor to pause the minimum wage increase during economic downturns. There are two scenarios in which a governor can hit the pause button.

It is important to note that this power granted the governor is optional. Even in a recession political pressure could prevent the governor from pulling the trigger.

The first trigger is pulled when nonfarm employment for a 3 or 6 month period declines and sales and use tax has dropped over a 12-month period compared to a previous year, all these measurements to be taken at the end of the budget year in June.

The second trigger is based on state budget projections. If the Department of Finance projects a deficit in the then-current fiscal year or in either of the following two fiscal years the governor can pause the minimum wage increase. The budget trigger can be used a maximum of two times.

According to a quick review by the California Business Roundtable’s Center for Jobs & the Economy, this trigger power, which the business group labels an “Off-Ramp” provision, if it had existed during recent past recessions, would have complicated economic conditions as California was trying to pull itself out of a recession. The analysis says the minimum wage increase would have resumed after the pause while unemployment was still high.

From the Roundtable’s Center for Jobs & the Economy brief examining the last two recessions:

The 2001 Recession—

Most of the country went through a relatively short 2001 recession, but in California it was extended due to Silicon Valley being the epicenter of the dot.com bust and spiking energy prices as a result of the state’s regulatory and other energy policy decisions.  While the triggers would have provided a one-year delay in 2002, the minimum wage would have continued its annual increase as unemployment continued to rapidly rise from an average of 5.4% in 2001 to a peak of 7.3% in 2003.

The 2007 Recession– 

The minimum wage increases would have resumed in 2012 when unemployment still averaged 10.4% or even earlier in 2011 when unemployment averaged 11.7%. Most importantly, the minimum wage increases would have kicked back in during the critically important 5-year recovery period where California slowly struggled to regain the two million jobs lost throughout the state.

The brief also noted how the resumption of the minimum wage could put California at a disadvantage with other states: “the state will then resume raising its wage level above other states just as the recovery begins—a time when competitive factors will be particularly crucial to how quickly the state can restores its economy.”

For the full Center for Jobs & the Economy brief go here.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Why The Middle Class Can’t Afford A House

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451The rising cost of housing is one of the greatest burdens on the American middle class. So why hasn’t it become a key issue in the presidential primaries?

There’s little argument that inequality, and the depressed prospects for the middle class, will be a dominant issue this year’s election. Yet the most powerful force shaping this reality—the rising cost of housing—has barely emerged as political issue.

As demonstrated in a recent report (PDF) from Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, housing now takes the largest share of family costs, while expenditures on food, apparel, and transportation have dropped or stayed about the same. In 2015, the rise in housing costs essentially swallowed savings gains made elsewhere, notably, savings on the cost of energy. The real estate consultancy Zillow predicts housing inflation will only worsen this year.

Driven in part by potential buyers being forced into the apartment market, rents have risen to a point that they now compose the largest share of income in modern U.S. history. Since 1990, renters’ income has been stagnant, while inflation-adjusted rents have soared 14.7 percent. Given the large shortfall in housing production—down not only since the 2007 recession but also by almost a quarter between 2011 and 2015—the trend toward ever higher prices and greater levels of unaffordability seems all but inevitable.

The connection between growing inequality and rising property prices is fairly direct. Thomas Piketty, the French economist, recently described the extent to which inequality in 20 nations has ramped up in recent decades, erasing the hard-earned progress of previous years in the earlier part of the 20th century. After examining Piketty’s groundbreaking research, Matthew Rognlie of MIT concluded (PDF) that much of the observed inequality is from redistribution of housing wealth away from the middle class.

Rognlie concluded that much of this was due to land regulation, and suggested the need to expand the housing supply and reexamine the land-use regulation that he associates with the loss of middle-class wealth. Yet in much of the country, housing has become so expensive as to cap upward mobility, forcing many people to give up on buying a house and driving many—particularly young families—to leave high-priced coastal regions for less expensive, usually less regulated markets in the country’s interior.

The Rise of the Exclusionary Region

The regions with the deepest declines in housing affordability, notes William Fischel, an economist at Dartmouth College, tend to employ stringent land-use regulations, a notion recently seconded by Jason Furman, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. In 1970, for example, housing costs adjusted for income were similar in coastal California and the rest of the country. Today house prices in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles are three or more times higher, when adjusted for income, than most other metropolitan areas. For most new buyers, such areas are becoming what Fischel calls “exclusionary regions” for all but the most well-heeled new buyers.

The biggest impact from regulation has been to diminish the supply of housing, particularly single-family homes. In a recent examination of permits across the nation from 2011 to 2014 for Forbes, we found that California regions lag well behind the national average in terms of new housing production, both multi-family and single family. Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, areas with less draconian regulations, have issued three times as many permits per capita last year. Overall California’s rate of new permits is 2.2 per 1000 while across the Lone Star state the rate was nearly three times higher.

In the “exclusionary regions” along both coasts, high land prices have made it all but impossible to build much of anything except luxury units. In Manhattan this has taken the form of high-rise towers that have been gobbled by the rich, including many foreigners, but this new construction has done little to make New York affordable for most residents. Between 2010 and 2015, Gotham rents increased 50 percent, while incomes for renters between ages 25 and 44 grew by just 8 percent.

Making of Two Americas

Real estate inflation is redefining American politics and could eventually transform the nature of our society. In the dense, increasingly “kiddie-free zones” around our Central Business Districts (CBDs), according to 2011 Census figures, children between ages 5 and 14 constituted about 7 percent of the population, less than half the level seen in newer suburbs and exurbs. The common habitués of these high-cost, high-density urban areas—singles and childless couples—have emerged, according to Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, as key elements of the progressive coalition.

The bluer the city, generally, the fewer the children. For example, the highest percentage of U.S. women over age 40 without children—a remarkable 70 percent—can be found in Washington, D.C. In Manhattan, singles make up half of all households. In some central neighborhoods of major metropolitan areas such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, less than 10 percent of the population is made up of children under 18.Perhaps the ultimate primary example of the new child-free city is San Francisco, home now to 80,000 more dogs than children, and where the percentage of children has dropped 40 percent since 1970.

In contrast, familial America clusters largely in newer suburbs and exurbs, and increasingly in the lower-cost cities in the South, the Intermountain West, and especially in Texas. Overall—and contrary to the bold predictions of many urbanists—suburban areas are once again, after a brief slowdown, growing faster than the urban cores.

America remains a suburban nation. Overall, 44 million Americans live in the core cities of America’s 51 major metropolitan areas, while nearly 122 million Americans live in the suburbs. And this does not include the more than half of the core city population that live in districts, particularly in the Sunbelt, that are functionally suburban or exurban, with low density and high automobile use.

The Geography of Inequality

Inequality may be a big issue among urban pundits, but, ironically, inequality is consistently more pronounced in larger, denser cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Manhattan, the densest and most influential urban environment in North America, exhibits the most profound level of inequality and the most bifurcated class structure in the U.S. If it were a country, New York City overall would have the 15th-highest inequality level of 134 countries, according to James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute, landing between Chile and Honduras.

In our core cities in particular, we are seeing something reminiscent of the Victorian era, when a huge proportion of workers labored in the servile class. Social historian Pamela Cox has explained that in 1901 one in four people, mostly women, were domestic servants. But is this—the world portrayed in shows such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs—the social norm we wish most to promote?

In contrast, research by the University of Washington’s Richard Morrill shows that suburban areas tend to have “generally less inequality” than the denser areas. For example, in California, Riverside-San Bernardino is far less unequal than Los Angeles, and Sacramento less so than San Francisco. Within the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million in population, notes demographer Wendell Cox, suburban areas were less unequal (measured by the Gini coefficient) than the core cities in 46 cases. And overall the poverty rate for cities is close to 20 percent, almost twice that of suburban areas.

The differential of housing cost accounts for much of this disparity. High housing prices tend to stunt upward mobility, particularly for minorities. One reason: The house remains the last great asset of the middle class. Homes represent only 9.4 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent, but 30 percent for those in the upper 20 percent and, for the 60 percent of the population in the middle, roughly 60 percent. The decline in property ownership threatens to turn much of the middle class into a class of rental serfs, effectively wiping out the social gains of the past half-century.

The Geographic Shift

High housing prices are also rapidly remaking America’s regional geography. Even areas with strong economies but ultra-high prices are not attracting new domestic migrants. One reason is soaring rents: According to Zillow, for workers between 22 and 34, rent costs claim upwards of 45 percent of income in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami compared to less than 30 percent of income in cities like Dallas and Houston. The costs of purchasing a house are even more lopsided: In Los Angeles and the Bay Area, a monthly mortgage takes, on average, close to 40 percent of income, compared to 15 percent nationally.

This is leading to a renewed shift even among educated millennials to such lower-cost regions as Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and even Cleveland. As millennials enter their 30s and seek to buy houses, these changes are likely to accelerate.

Millennials may be staying in the city longer than previous generations, but their long-term aspirations remain fixed on buying a single-family house. This trend will accelerate in the next few years, suggests economist Jed Kolko, as the peak of the millennial population turns 30. Faced with a huge student debt load, a weaker job market, and often high housing prices, millennials face tougher challenges than some previous generations, but retain remarkably similar aspirations.

Bringing Back Levittown

Clearly America needs a new approach to housing. Democrats may enjoy their strongest base in the cities, but many of their young constituents likely will end up in the suburbs, or will continue to move to smaller, less reflexively progressive cities. Finding ways to make suburbs more sustainable, both environmentally and for families, will have more long-term appeal than trying to eliminate their preferred way of life.

Some attempts to force developers to build low-income units have, if anything, worsened the situation by discouraging new production while actually boosting prices for the vast majority. In some cases, as in New York City, the forced construction of low-income units in otherwise market-rate buildings has resulted in such absurdities as the so-called “poor door,” through which low-income residents, who are denied most of the amenities offered to wealthier residents, must enter.

Republicans too may need to change their tune. As suburbs become more multi-cultural, and dominated by millennials, the GOP will have to embrace some of the environmental and social priorities of the new residents. They also have to realize that middle-class homeowners do not always share the same interests as Wall Street investors. Under the current regulatory regime, slavish adherence to the ambitions of big investors could undermine the dispersed ownership culture, replacing it with one primarily rental-based, even in single-family homes. Essentially this could transform large areas, including suburbs, into far less socially stable areas, particularly for families.

One potential solution would be to draw on the successful policies enacted after World War II. At that time, the nation suffered a severe housing crisis as servicemen returned from the war. The solution combined governmental activism—through such things as the GI Bill and mortgage interest deductions—with less regulatory control over development. The result was a massive expansion of the country’s housing stock, and a dramatic increase in the level of homeownership.

Bringing back the Levittown approach would require jettisoning ideological baggage that now accompanies the contemporary discussion about housing. Libertarians tend to favor loosened regulations—something welcome indeed—but seem to have less than passionate interest in addressing the housing interests of working- and middle-class Americans. As we saw in the late ’40s, at least some government support for affordable housing is critical to expanding ownership.

But increasingly the worst influence on housing stems from the proclivities of contemporary progressivism. Whereas earlier Democratic presidents, from Roosevelt and Truman to Johnson and Clinton, strongly supported suburban single-family growth, contemporary progressives display an almost cultish bias toward the very dense, urban environment. The fact that perhaps at most 10 to 20 percent of Americans prefer this option almost guarantees that this approach would be unacceptable to the vast majority.

How we deal with the housing crisis will shape our future, and will largely determine what kind of nation we will become. Although some developers outside the coastal areas are trying to revive smaller “starter homes,” at least in more reasonably priced markets, this may prove all but impossible to accomplish in “exclusionary regions” unless there is serious change.

Following our current path, we can expect our society—particularly in deep blue states—to move ever more toward a kind of feudalism where only a few own property while everyone else devolves into rent serfs. The middle class will have little chance to acquire any assets for their retirement and increasingly few will choose to have children. Imagine, then, a high-tech Middle Ages with vast chasms between the upper classes and the poor, with growing dependence—even among what once would have been middle-class households—on handouts to pay rent. Imagine too, over time, Japanese-style depopulation and an ever more rapidly aging society.

Yet none of this is necessary. This is not a small country with limited land and meager prospects. A bold new approach to housing, including the reform of out of control regulations, could restore the fading American dream for tens of millions of families. It would provide the basis for a greater spread of assets and perhaps a less divided — and less angry — country. Rather than waste their time on symbolic issues or serving their financial overlords, candidates in both parties need to address policies that are now undermining the very basis of middle-class democracy.

This piece originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

Cross-posted at New Geography.

California drought impact pegged at $2.7 billion

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The drought is costing California about $2.7 billion this year, according to a new UC Davis study, although the statistics suggest the state’s overall economy can withstand the impact.

In their latest estimate of the four-year drought’s economic effects, professors at the university’s Center for Watershed Sciences said Tuesday the drought has reduced seasonal farm employment by 10,100 jobs this year. When indirect job losses are thrown in, including truck drivers, food processing workers and others partially dependent on farming, the impact on payrolls comes to 21,000.

At the same time, the study said farmers are holding up reasonably well in spite of significant water shortages and the fallowing of 542,000 acres of land. “Agriculture is very resilient because of the underground water,” said Richard Howitt, professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics and a co-author of the report. “The economic impact is not as severe as it could be.”

​Minimum Wage Hikes Hurt the Economy and the Poor

California has raised its minimum wage four times over the past 13 years, with each increase outpacing the federal minimum wage. California’s current minimum wage is 138 percent of the federal level, and with the impending statewide increase mandated by current law in 2016, California will have the highest minimum wage in the country.

Despite clear negative impacts on both California’s economy and low income citizens, Senate Bill 3 (Mark Leno, D-San Francisco) would mandate an additional statewide increase to $13 per hour with annual, auto-scheduled wage increases thereafter.

With another increase already teed up for January 2016, pre-programing additional increases is reckless.  The weight of economic data compels the conclusion that arbitrary minimum wage increases do more harm than good.  Motivated by the understandable desire to help the state’s lowest wage earners, the reality is that they reduce access to jobs for those citizens who need them most and further suppress upward mobility for those clinging to the bottom rung of the employment ladder.

Capitol Matrix Consulting studied the fiscal impact of a $13 minimum wage to the state and, not surprisingly, found devastating consequences.  The study identified a $200 million annual cost to the state due to the recent minimum wage increases already being phased in.  Worse yet, it projects a cost of $860 million to the state in the 2016-2017 fiscal year if the minimum wage is raised to $13.  (Most of these costs are incurred due to increased state payments for providers of In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and increased state costs to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS)).

These negative financial impacts would not be offset by any additional revenue to the state.  Paying for burdens would have to come from higher taxes – further accelerating an economic death spiral – or cuts to vital services and fewer public sector jobs.

While Capitol Matrix’s study analyzed the direct fiscal impacts of another increase, the projected costs to the state – totaling nearly a billion dollars a year – do not represent the full impact of such an increase.  Increasing labor costs on California’s millions of small businesses creates additional unintended consequences, including higher prices for the goods and services we rely on and reduced access to jobs for teens and low-skilled workers.  California’s recent minimum wage increase is not yet a year old, and another increase is only eight months away.  These two increases are a 25 percent wage increase in just 18 months, and small businesses are already feeling the pressure to cut hours, eliminate jobs and raise prices.

Like many well-intentioned progressive policies the actual effects of a significant increase in the minimum wage won’t match the promise of helping the working poor – in fact, just the opposite.  For struggling Californians looking for work, what good is an increase in the minimum wage if you can’t get a job?

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpa​yers’ rights.

CA Jobs are Booming, But What Kind of Jobs?

First the good news on the job front: California is leading the nation in job creation. Job growth in the Golden State last year increased by 3.1% while job growth in the rest of the nation settled in at 2.3%. And with 67,300 new jobs created in January alone, the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9% from 7.1%, the lowest in nearly seven years, although still higher than the national unemployment figure of 5.5%. Still, the January California job gains made up 28% of all jobs created in the entire nation.

Yet, wage growth is not keeping pace, especially in populous Los Angeles County. Low paying jobs make up a large share of the job increase in the county and elsewhere.

According to Jordan Levine of Beacon Economics in L.A. the cost of hiring middle class workers in California is expensive. The reasons Levine mentioned in a Long Beach Press Telegram report were regulations and environmental laws that have driven up the cost of doing business and the cost of housing. It becomes difficult for businesses to meet the higher wages needed to keep middle-wage workers.

“It really comes down to the cost of living,” Levine said. “If you look at who’s moving out, it’s people making $50,000 or less.”

So while the legislature looks for solutions to housing costs to help create affordable housing through tax credits and fees, legislators also should consider how past regulations and laws have driven up the cost of housing and look for ways to ease up on those rules.

Beyond that examination, the legislature should go further and see how regulation reform could add to job creation in the middle class.

As the California Business Roundtable noted not long ago, “By a large margin, California’s regulatory environment is the most costly, complex and uncertain in the nation. No other state comes close to California on these dimensions.”

Let’s hail the increase in jobs that is occurring now and celebrate California’s recovering economy. But, now is also the time to take steps to continue job growth and make moves that encourage businesses to generate more middle class jobs.

This piece originally ran on Fox and Hounds Daily

Whether Politicians Like It or Not Gasoline Is California’s Life Blood

The Field Poll reports that for the first time in seven years more California voters believe the state is moving in the right direction (50 percent) than feel it is on the wrong track (41 percent). Those living in coastal California are much more likely to have a positive outlook on our state’s future than inland residents. And Democrats are more optimistic than Republicans, so it may be safe to assume that Democrats living in Malibu, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area are much happier than Republicans living in Central Valley and other areas with high unemployment.

Like politicians everywhere, California’s governing class will attempt to claim credit for this reversal of what had been nearly unanimous pessimism.  Moreover, they will also claim that this is vindication of progressive policies that have given California one of the most harsh tax and regulatory environments in the nation.

However they explain the voters’ optimism, they are unlikely to bring up the one thing for which they can claim no credit whatsoever; the lower gas prices that existed during the period the poll was conducted, January 26-February 16, just before the cost of a gallon of gas began to vault upward again.  With prices in late January down almost 2 bucks per gallon since the high in 2014, many Californians have had reason to smile. It is also interesting to note that the last time more voters than not were positive about their state, gas prices were also down.

Even if there is not an exact correlation, when drivers who fill up their cars two or three times a month see that they are saving money, they are definitely in a better mood.What is ironic is that while the Sacramento political class may want to take credit for voter optimism, they have been working overtime to keep the cost of gasoline high. Between the high gas tax and the additional “carbon tax” imposed on manufacturers that is putting upward pressure on prices, the politicians have proven they are no friend of the millions of average folks who must depend on their cars for transportation.  According to State Board of Equalization Member George Runner, even with the price dip, Californians in January were paying as much as 47 cents more per gallon than drivers in other states.

Acknowledging that gas taxes are providing sufficient revenue, the State Board of Equalization last week reduced the state gas tax by 6 cents a gallon beginning this July. The reduction is based on a formula enacted by the Legislature in 2010, a formula that is so complicated that most news reporters don’t understand it.  Runner rightfully objects to this confusing system that hides the actual cost of the gas tax by hiding the second carbon tax that is only reflected in the overall price.  Currently, Californians pay about 64 cents per gallon in taxes and fees — the second-highest rate in the nation — but we become number one when the hidden tax of about 15 cents is added in.

If the Sacramento politicians really want to see voters smile, they should lay off trying to increase costs for the millions of Californians who depend on their cars to go to work, take their children to school and to do the weekly shopping.  Because one thing is certain – the optimism that Californians are feeling now will disappear in a heartbeat if gas prices return to what they were less than a year ago.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Economic Contrast: Texas vs. CA

In the last decade, Texas emerged as America’s new land of opportunity — if you will, America’s America. Since the start of the recession, the Lone Star State has been responsible for the majority of employment growth in the country. Between November  2007 and November 2014, the United States gained  a net 2.1 million jobs, with 1.2 million alone in Texas.

Yet with the recent steep drop in oil prices, the Texas economy faces extreme headwinds that could even spark something of a downturn. A repeat of the 1980s oil bust isn’t likely, says Comerica Bank economist Robert Dye, but he expects much slower growth, particularly for formerly red-hot Houston, an easing of home prices and, likely, a slowdown of in-migration.

Some blue state commentators might view Texas’ prospective decline as good news. Some, like Paul Krugman, have spent years arguing that the state’s success has little to do with its much-touted business-friendly climate of light regulation and low taxes, but rather, simply mass in-migration by people seeking cheaper housingSchadenfreude is palpable in the writings of progressive journalists like the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik, who recently crowed that falling energy prices may finally “snuff out” the detested “Texas miracle.”

Such attitudes are short-sighted. It is unlikely that the American economy can sustain a healthy rate of growth without the kind of production-based strength that has powered Texas, as well as Ohio, North Dakota and Louisiana. De-industrializing states like California or New York may enjoy asset bubbles that benefit the wealthy and generate “knowledge workers” jobs for the well-educated (nationwide, professional and business services employment rose by 196,000 from October 2007 through October 2014), but they cannot do much to provide opportunities for the majority of the population.

By their nature, industries like manufacturing, energy, and housing have been primary creators of opportunities for the middle and working classes. Up until now, energy  has been a consistent job-gainer since the recession, adding  199,000 positions from October 2007 through October 2014, says Dan Hamilton, an economist at California Lutheran University. Manufacturing has not recovered all the jobs lost in the recession, but last year it added 170,000 new positions through October. Construction, another sector that was hard-hit in the recession, grew by 213,000 jobs last year through October. The recovery of these industries has been critical to reducing unemployment and bringing the first glimmer of hope to many, particularly in the long suffering Great Lakes.

Reducing the price of gas will not change the structure of the long-stagnant economies of the coastal states; job growth rates in these places have been meager for decades. Lower oil prices may help many families pay their bills in the short run. But there’s also pain in low prices for a country that was rapidly becoming an energy superpower, largely due to the efforts of Texans.

Already the decline in the energy economy, which supports almost 1.3 million manufacturing jobs, is hurting manufacturers of steel, construction materials and drilling equipment, such as Caterpillar. Separately, the strengthening of the dollar promises harder times ahead for exporters  in the industrial sector, and greater price competition from abroad, amid weakening overseas demand. Factory activity is slowing, though key indicators like the ISM PMI are still signaling that output is expanding.

Right now in Texas, of course, the pain is mounting in the energy sector. Growth seems certain to slow in places such as Houston, which Comerica’s Dye says is “ground zero in the down-draft.” Also vulnerable will be San Antonio, the major beneficiary of the nearby Eagle Ford shale. The impacts may be worst in West Texas oil patch towns like Midland, where energy is essentially the economy.

Yet there remain reasons for optimism. Cheaper energy prices will be a boon for the petrochemical and refining industries, which are thick on the ground around Houston and other parts of the Gulf Coast. The Houston area is not seeing anything like the madcap office and housing construction that occurred during the oil boom of the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1986 the metro area added 71 million square feet of office space; including what is now being built, the area has added just 28 million square feet since 2010. Compared to the 1980s, the residential market is also relatively tight, with relatively little speculative building.

The local and state economies have also become far more diversified. Houston is now the nation’s largest export hub. The city also is home to the Texas Medical Center, often described as the world’s largest. Dallas has become a major corporate hub and Austin is developing into a serious rival to Northern California’s tech sector.

Texas needs to increase this diversification given that oil prices could remain low for quite a while, and even drop further after their recent recovery.

This is not to deny that the state is facing hard times. Energy accounts for 411,372 jobs in Texas, about 3.2% of the statewide total, according to figures from Austin economist Brian Kelsey quoted in the Austin American-Statesman. If oil and gas industry earnings in Texas fall 20%, Kelsey estimates the state could lose half of those jobs and $13.5 billion in total earnings.

Low prices also could also devastate the state budget, which is heavily reliant on energy industry revenues. A reduction in state spending could have damaging consequences in a place that has tended to prefer low taxes to investing in critical infrastructure, and is already struggling to accommodate break-neck growth. The only good news here is that slower population growth might mitigate some of the turndown in spending, if it indeed occurs.

But in my mind, the biggest asset of Texas is Texans. Having spent a great deal a time there, the contrasts with my adopted home state of California are remarkable. No businessperson I spoke to in Houston or Dallas is even remotely contemplating a move elsewhere; Houstonians often brag about how they survived the ‘80s bust, wearing those hard times as a badge of honor.

To be sure, Texans can be obnoxiously arrogant about their state, and have a peculiar talent for a kind of braggadocio that drives other Americans a bit crazy. But they are also our greatest regional asset, the one big state where America remains America, if only more so.

This piece first appeared at Forbes.

Cross-posted at New Geography and Fox and Hounds Daily

U.S. Economy Needs Hardhats Not Nerds

The blue team may have lost the political battle last year, but with the rapid fall of oil and commodity prices, they have temporarily gained the upper hand economically. Simultaneously, conditions have become more problematical for those interior states, notably Texas and North Dakota, that have benefited from the fossil fuel energy boom. And if the Obama administration gets its way, they are about to get tougher.

This can be seen in a series of actions, including new regulations from the EPA and the likely veto by the president of the Keystone pipeline, that will further slow the one sector of the economy that has been generating high-paid, blue collar employment. At the same time, housing continues to suffer, as incomes for the vast majority of the middle class have failed to recover from the 2008 crash.

Manufacturing, which had been gaining strength, also now faces its own challenges, in large part due to the soaring U.S. dollar, which makes exports more expensive. Amidst weakening demand in the rest of the world, many internationally-oriented firms such as United Technologies and IBM forecast slower sales. Low prices for oil and other commodities also threatens the resurgence of mainstream manufacturers such as Caterpillar, for whom the energy and metals boom has produced a surge in demand for their products.

Left largely unscathed, for now, have been the other, less tangible sectors of the economy, notably information technology, including media, and the financial sector, as well as health services. In sharp contrast to manufacturing, energy, and home-building, all of these sectors except health care are clustered in the high-cost, blue state economies along the West Coast and the Northeast. As long as the Fed continues to keep interest rates very low, and maintains its bond-buying binge, these largely ephemeral industries seem poised to appear ever more ascendant. No surprise then that one predictably Obama-friendly writer called the current economy “awesome” despite weak income growth and high levels of disengagement by the working class in the economy. If Wall Street and Silicon Valley are booming, what else can be wrong?

Should the whole economy become more bluish?

One consistent theme of blue-state pundits, such as Richard Florida, is that blue states and cities “are pioneering the new economic order that will determine our future.” In this assessment, the red states depend on an economy based on energy extraction, agriculture and suburban sprawl. By this logic, growing food for mass market consumers, building houses for the middle class, making cars, drilling for oil and gas—all things that occur in the red state backwaters—are intrinsically less important than the ideas of nerds of Silicon Valley, the financial engineers of Wall Street, and their scattered offspring around the country.

But here’s a little problem: these industries do not provide anything like the benefits that more traditional industries—manufacturing, energy, housing—give to the middle and working classes. In fact, since 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the information and technology sectors have lost more than 337,000 jobs, in part as traditional media jobs get swallowed by the Internet. Even last year, which may well prove the height of the current boom, the information and technology industry created a net 2,000 jobs. And while social and on-line media may be expanding, having added 5,000 jobs over the last decade, traditional media lost ten times as many positions, according to Pew.

In contrast, energy has been a consistent job-gainer, adding more than 200,000 jobs during the same decade. And while manufacturing lost net jobs since 2007, it has been on a roll, last year adding more than 170,000 new positions. Construction, another sector hard hit in the recession, added 213,000 positions last year. The recovery of these industries has been critical to reducing unemployment and bringing the first glimmer of hope to many, particularly in the long suffering Great Lakes region.

These tangible industries seem to be largely irrelevant to deep blue economies. A prospective decline of energy jobs, for example, does not hurt places like California or New York, which depend heavily on other regions to do the dirty work. Overall, for example, California, despite its massive energy reserves, created merely 15,000 jobs since 2007, barely one-tenth as many as in Texas. Energy employment in key blue cities such as New York and San Francisco has remained stagnant, and actually declined in Boston.

Similarly, a possible slowdown in manufacturing—in part due to an inflated dollar, depressed international demand, and the loss of industrial jobs tied to energy—will affect different regions in varying degrees. Since 2009, the manufacturing renaissance has been strongly felt in traditional hubs like Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Louisville, as well as energy-charged places such as Houston and Oklahoma City. All saw manufacturing growth of 10 percent or more. Meanwhile New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston all lost industrial positions.

Finally, there remains the housing sector, a prime employer of blue collar workers and the prime source of asset accumulation for middle class families. Sparked by migration and income growth, construction growth has been generally stronger in Texas cities but far more sluggish in New York and California, where slower population growth and highly restrictive planning rules make it much tougher to build affordable homes or new communities. Last year at the height of the energy boom, Houston alone built more single family homes than the entire state of California.

If you think inequality is bad now …

The new ephemera-based economy thrills those who celebrate a brave new world led by intrepid tech oligarchs and Wall Street money-men. The oligarchs in these industries have gotten much, much richer during the current recovery, not only through stocks and IPOs, but also from ultra-inflated real estate in select regional areas, particularly New York City and coastal California. As economist George Stiglitz has noted, such inflation on land costs has been as pervasive an effect of Fed policy as anything else.

Even in Houston, some academics hail the impending “collapse of the oil industrial economy,” even as they urge city leaders to compete with places like San Francisco for the much ballyhooed “creative class.” Yet University of Houston economist Bill Gilmer notes that low energy prices are driving tens of billions of new investment at the port and on the industrial east side of the city. This growth, he suggests, may help offset some of the inevitable losses in the more white collar side of the energy complex.

The emergence of a new ephemera-led economy bodes very poorly for most Americans, and not just Texans or residents of North Dakota. The deindustrialized ephemera-dominated economy of Brooklyn, for example, has made some rich, but overall incomes have dropped over the last decade; roughly one in four Brooklynites, overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, lives in poverty. Similar patterns of increased racial segregation and middle class flight can be found in other post-industrial cities, including one-time powerhouse Chicago, where areas of  concentrated poverty have expanded in recent years.

Nowhere is this clearer than in ephemera central: California. Once a manufacturing juggernaut and a beacon of middle class opportunity, the Golden States now suffers the worst level of poverty in the country. While Silicon Valley and its urban annex, San Francisco, have flourished, most of the state—from Los Angeles to the Inland regions—have done poorly, with unemployment rates 25 percent or higher than the national average. The ultra-“progressive” city now suffers the most accelerated increase in inequality in the country.

Similar trends have also transformed Silicon Valley, once a powerful manufacturing, product-producing center. As the blue collar and much of older middle management jobs have left, either for overseas or places like Texas or Utah, the Valley has lost much of its once egalitarian allure. San Jose, for example, has long been home to the nation’s largest homeless encampment. Black and Hispanic incomes in the Valley, notes Joint Venture Silicon Valley, have actually declined amidst the boom, as manufacturing and middle management jobs have disappeared, while many tech jobs are taken by predominately white and Asian younger workers, many of them imported “techno-coolies.”

In contrast, the recoveries in the middle part of the country have been, to date, more egalitarian, with incomes rising quickly among a broader number of workers. At the same time, minority incomes in cities such as Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Phoenix tend be far higher, when compared to the incomes of Anglos, than they do in places like San Francisco, New York, or Boston. In these opportunity cities, minority homeownership—a clear demarcation of middle income aspiration—is often twice as high as it is in the epicenters of the ephemeral economy.

To succeed in the future, America needs to run on all cylinders.

The cheerleaders of the ephemeral economy often point out that they represent the technological future of the country, and concern themselves little with the competitive position of the “production” economy—whether energy, agriculture, or manufacturing. They also seek to force the middle class into ever denser development, something not exactly aspirational for most people.

Nor is the current ephemera the key to new productivity growth. Social media may be fun, but it is not making America more competitive or particularly more productive (PDF). Yet there has been strong innovation in “production” sectors such as manufacturing, which alone accounts for roughly half (PDF) of all U.S. research and development.

What is frequently missed is that engineering covers a lot of different skills. To be sure the young programmers and digital artists are important contributors to the national economy. But so too are the many more engineers who work in more mundane fields such as geology, chemical, and civil engineering. Houston, for example, ranks second (PDF) behind San Jose in percentage of engineers in the workforce, followed by such unlikely areas as Dayton and Wichita. New York, on the other hand, has among the lowest percentage of engineers of major metropolitan areas.

To be sure, an aerospace engineer in Wichita is not likely to seem as glamorous as the youthful, urbanista app-developers so lovingly portrayed in the media. Yet these engineers are precisely the people, along with skilled workers, who keep the lights on, planes flying and cars going, and who put most of the food on people’s tables.

The dissonance between reality and perception is most pronounced in California. The state brags much about the state’s renewable sector to the ever gullible media. But in reality high subsidized solar and wind account for barely 10 percent of electrical production, with natural gas and coal, now mostly imported from points east, making up the vast majority. In terms of transportation fuels, the state has a 96 percent dependence on fossil fuels, again large imported, despite the state’s vast reserves. Los Angeles, although literally sitting on oil, depends for 40 percent of its electricity on coal-fired power from the Intermountain West.

Equally critical, the now threatened resurgence of the industrial and energy sectors could reverse trends that have done more to strengthen the U.S. geopolitical situation than anything else in recent decades. Foreign dictators can easily restrict a Google, Facebook, or Twitter, or create locally-based alternatives; for all its self-importance, social media has posed no mortal danger to authoritarian countries. In contrast, the energy revolution has undermined some of the world’s most venal and dangerous regimes, from Saudi Arabia and Iran to Russia and Venezuela.

In no way do I suggest we don’t need the ephemeral sectors. Media, social and otherwise, remain important parts of the American economy, and testify to the country’s innovative and cultural edge. But these industries simply cannot drive broader based economic growth and opportunity. Part of the problem lies in the nature of these industries, centered largely in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, which require little in terms of blue collar workers. Another prime issue is that these areas can only import so many people from the rest of country due to extraordinary high housing costs.

Under current circumstances, the centers of the ephemeral economy such as New York or San Francisco cannot accommodate large numbers of upwardly mobile people, particularly families. These, for better or worse, have been vast gated communities that are too expensive, and too economically narrow, to accommodate most people, except those with either inherited money or elite educations. This is why Texas—which has created roughly eight times as many jobs as California since 2007 and has accounted for nearly one-third of all GDP growth since the crash—remains a beacon of opportunity, and the preferred place for migrants, a slot that used to belong to the Golden State.

As a country, we stand at the verge of a historical opportunity to assure U.S. preeminence by melding our resource/industrial economy with a tech-related economy. Our strength in ephemera can be melded with the power of a resource and industrial economy. In the process, we can choose widespread and distributed prosperity or accept a society with a few pockets of wealth—largely in expensive urban centers—surrounded by a downwardly mobile country.

The good news is America—alone among the world’s largest economies—has demonstrated it can master both the ephemeral and tangible economies. To thrive we need to have respect not for one, but for both.

Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

This piece first appeared at The Daily Beast.

Cross-posted at New Geography and Fox and Hounds Daily 

Hoover Poll: CA Wants Growth, Not Green Programs or Bullet Train

Gov. Jerry Brown just won a resounding re-election victory. But his new budget released last week for Fiscal Year 2015-16, which begins on July 1, is out of sync with Californians on some important issues, according to the Hoover Institution’s new Golden State Poll. It questioned people between Dec. 9 and Jan. 4.

The poll’s findings are consistent no matter political party, income or education level, race, gender, ideology or interest in following the news.

The overwhelming voice of California likely voters seeks:

  • Economic growth: 72 percent
  • Solving the state’s drought and other water problems: 69 percent
  • Improving jobs: 66 percent
  • Balancing the state budget: 61 percent

Much lower down on the list are some of Brown’s top priorities:

  • Dealing with the environment: 32 percent
  • Global warming: 26 percent
  • Making public pensions sound: 26 percent
  • Strengthening gun laws: 26 percent
  • Continuing the state’s high-speed rail project: 16 percent

(See table below for a full list.)

Brown’s budget proposal runs against the grain of public opinion by:

  • Spending $532 million of the new $7.5 billion Water Bond from Proposition 1 that will do nothing directly to deal with drought (poll respondents had a 69 percent priority to deal with the drought).
  • Moving ahead with the bullet-train project (only 16 percent priority) with $250 million of funding from the California Air Resources Board’s cap-and-trade tax on industries and public utilities (only 26 percent priority).
  • Doing nothing to reduce the state’s $15 billion duplicative and ineffective energy efficiency and renewable energy programs per the California Legislative Office report of December 19, 2012 (only 40 percent priority).
  • Funding a school facilities bond that caters to special interests (54 percent priority against special-interest funding).
  • Including $1.4 billion for teacher pension funding (only 34 percent priority).

Pensions

High responses (65 percent or higher) and low responses (35 percent or lower) are both strong indicators of what Californians want to be emphasized in the state budget and other policies. Conversely, modest responses (40 to 60 percent) are not strong indicators one way or another.

Viewed in that frame, the Hoover Poll indicates Californians want economic growth, jobs and a concrete solution to the state’s perpetual drought problems.

Conversely, they consider it a low priority to make pensions sound, reduce income inequality, protect the environment, deal with global warming or proceed with the high-speed rail. In fact, the rail project received the lowest priority of all by far: just 16 percent.

That means 84 percent of Californians are not enthusiastic about the project. Yet Brown has branded rail opponents “dystopians and declinists.”

Californians have modest and equivocal responses to improving roads, K-12 education, reforming the tax system, reducing crime, dealing with energy problems, helping the needy and reducing Medi-Cal costs.

One anomaly is over public pensions. Despite low public awareness, this is a $500 billion problem that just can’t go away. Even the bankrupt cities of Vallejo, San Bernardino and Stockton have been forced to fund pensions above all other priorities. Doing so has brought both large budget cuts to essential services and tax increases.

Legislature unlikely to rectify budget priorities

The voters’ voice is clear from the Hoover poll: Californians want economic growth, private sector jobs and a real solution to the drought problem.

However, it is unlikely the Legislature is going to rectify the budget to be more in line with voters’ priorities given that only 34 percent of those polled by Hoover had any trust in state government.

A mismatch between voter desires and government action is a recipe for political dysfunction.


Top Priorities for California’s State Government – Most Likely Voters

Question: In his State of the State speech, Governor Brown will talk about what he thinks should be priorities for California’s state government in 2015. Thinking about the issues facing California, what do you think should be a top priority, important but lower priority, not too important or should not be done?
Percent saying each is a “top priority” Total
Strengthening the state’s economy 72%
Dealing with the state’s water problems 69%
Improving the job situation 66%
Balancing the state’s budget 61%
Reducing influence of special interests on state government 54%
Dealing with the issue of illegal immigration 49%
Improving state’s roads, bridges and public transportation 47%
Improving the K-12 education system 46%
Reforming the state’s tax system 45%
Reducing crime 44%
Dealing with state’s energy problems 40%
Helping the poor and needy people 37%
Reducing the costs for Medi-Cal program 36%
Make public employee pensions fiscally sound 34%
Protecting the environment 32%
Reducing income inequality 29%
Reforming the state’s pension system 26%
Dealing with global warming 26%
Strengthening gun laws 26%
Continuing the state’s high speed rail project 16%
Data Source: Hoover Institution Golden State Poll, Dec. 9, 2014 to Jan. 4, 2015

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Economic Growth: Why SoCal is Slow and Go

ECONOMICS POLITICS-In this information age, brains are supposed to be the most valued economic currency. For California, where the regulatory environment is more difficult for companies and people who make things, this is even more the case. Generally speaking, those areas that have the heaviest concentration of educated people generally do better than those who don’t.

Nothing more illustrates this trend than the supremacy of the Bay Area over Southern California in the past five years. Since the 2007-09 recession, the Bay Area has recovered all of its jobs, as has San Diego, but Los Angeles-Orange and the Inland Empire, although improving, lag behind.

Overall, the San Jose and San Francisco areas boast shares of college graduates at around 45 percent, compared with a 34 percent average for the 52 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The San Diego area clocks in at 34.6. In comparison, the Los Angeles-Orange County area has roughly 31 percent college graduates while the San Bernardino-Riverside area has the lowest share of four-year degrees – 20 percent – of any large region in the country – this is worse even than backwaters like Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala.

Dividing this region by counties shows Orange County well in the lead, with 37.6 percent college-educated, well above Los Angeles County’s 30 percent. 

Recent Trends – To see where these metrics are headed, Mark Schill, an analyst with the Praxis Strategy Group was asked to identify the share growth of bachelor’s degrees in the country’s largest metropolitan areas during 2000-13. The share of the adult population with college educations rose by 6.8 percent in San Jose and 6.4 points in the San Francisco-Oakland region. Some regions did better, including Boston, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Mich., Baltimore, New York and St. Louis. All these were considerably above the national average increase of 5.2 percent.

In contrast, most areas of Southern California have shown more meager growth in their educated workforces. Los Angeles, overall, enjoyed a very average increase of 5.2 percent. San Diego, despite its high-tech reputation, notched a 5 point jump while the Inland Empire increased by 3.8 points, one of the lowest performances in the country. The biggest gainer in the Southland was Orange County, where the share of educated workers grew by a healthy 6.3 percent. 

Whither young, educated workers? – The picture, particularly for the Inland Empire, is not totally bleak. In a recent survey conducted by Cleveland State University, there have been some promising developments in the growth of younger educated workers. This key cohort, notes researcher Richey Piiparinen, appears to follow a very different path than do older educated workers, with many seeking out careers in less-expensive locales.

Indeed, looking at educated growth among 25-34-year-olds from 2010-13 finds that the most rapid expansion is taking place in unlikely places, such as the areas around Nashville, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., and Cleveland, all which experienced increases of roughly 20 percent or more. This is better than twice the growth rate in such noted “brain centers” as San Jose and San Francisco, which were around 10 percent, and New York at 9 percent. The Los Angeles-Orange County area saw a similar increase.

The reasons for these surprising, and somewhat encouraging results, particularly for the Inland Empire, may vary. One thing, of course, is the low base from which the area starts. After all, until the past decade, the employment profile of the Inland Empire favored manufacturing, logistics and construction, all fields not dependent on large contingents of highly educated workers.

Another critical factor may well be price, as we saw in our surprising findings on millennials. Simply put, many of the areas attractive in the past to educated workers have become extraordinarily expensive – as demonstrated by San Francisco-based writer Johnny Sanphillippo – while some more affordable locales have become “sweet spots” for younger educated people, particularly as millennials enter their family formation years. 

County, city breakdowns – The Southland, of course, is a vast region, and even every county contains hosts of cities that are very different from each other. In terms of counties, the biggest gains – albeit from a smaller base – took place in the Inland Empire, notably Riverside, which saw a 93 percent jump in its educated population since 2000. Orange County saw a 37.6 percent gain, ahead of Los Angeles’ roughly 36 percent gain.

More intriguing, and revealing, is the distribution of college degrees by city areas. Here, the supremacy of a few areas is very clear. In three Southland communities, more than 60 percent of the adult populations have college degrees: Santa Monica, Newport Beach and Irvine. Yorba Linda, Pasadena and Redondo Beach all boast rates close to, or above, 50 percent.

Obviously, these towns are something of outliers in the region. Los Angeles, by far the region’s largest city, has roughly 31 percent of its adults with college degrees. Many communities do far worse, most of all, Compton, where less than 6 percent have four-year degrees. Hesperia, Southgate, Lynwood and Victorville have educated percentages under 10 percent.

Adjacent communities sometimes have radically different rates of education. Santa Ana, for example, abuts Irvine, but has an educated population of barely 12 percent. And while some areas have shown meager growth in their share of educated residents, several areas have seen double-digit percentage increases, including Burbank, Yorba Linda, Rancho Cucamonga and Santa Monica. 

Implications – As the Southland economy evolves, it makes sense to look at those areas most likely to have more of the educated workers that high-end industries need. These increasingly are clustered in a few places, such as Irvine, Newport Beach, Rancho Cucamonga and Costa Mesa, that are both suburban in form but tend to have better schools than much of the region. These areas also tend to have lower-than-average unemployment rates. Educated people tend to migrate, for the most part, to areas where others of their ilk are concentrated, and often where their children have the best chance at a decent education.

These statistics and trends suggest that our leaders, in education and politics, need to focus on reality. It is dubious that many communities throughout the Southland will develop large shares of educated people in the immediate future. Indeed, given the quality of public education throughout most of the region, it seems almost inevitable that much of the region will lag in terms of skills well into the next decade.

This means that local leaders cannot expect to duplicate in the near future the success of places like Boston, the Bay Area, or even Pittsburgh. Instead, there needs to be a two-pronged attempt to address this issue. One is to boost preparatory and higher education throughout the region, which will allow for Southern California to better compete at the highest-end of employment.

But the other strategy, not to be discounted, is a full-scale commitment to skills training for those unlikely to earn bachelor’s degrees. This also means taking measures allowing the industries that would employ such workers – largely manufacturing, logistics, medical and business services – to flourish, so this training will have rewards. The Southland’s already large educated population is one key to its future, but finding a decent work environment for those without a four-year degree merits equal, if not greater, emphasis.

This article was originally published on CityWatchLA

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study,The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA. This piece was posted most recently at newgeography.com.)