The politics of California's uptick in jobs

1:33 PM, Jul 20, 2012   |    comments
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Politicians have a love-hate relationship with the economy, loving when economic trends play into their political narratives... but hate when those trends are used to characterize them as out of touch.

And so it should come as no surprise that California's recent spate of pretty good news on the jobless front is going to get batted around by candidates and campaigns looking to frame the news in a way that fits their own narrative.

On Friday, state officials reported (PDF) that California added 38,300 jobs in the month of June.  That helped bring the state's unemployment rate down a slight tick to 10.7 percent -- still one of the highest in the nation, but now below the 2 million unemployed mark for the first time in a long time.

That follows on what turned out to be a better-than-thought month of May, too, where 45,900 jobs were added in the Golden State.  Or as state economist Steve Levy pointed out on Friday morning, a total that represents 50 percent of all the new jobs in the nation in that two month period.

"California has now posted two blockbuster months for job growth," Levy wrote in his monthly jobs report email, "and the economy has regained some mojo for moving forward."

That's not to say that everyone in California is feeling the economic love.  Silicon Valley and San Diego may be buzzing with activity, but experts say the job outlook in Sacramento and parts of the Central Valley is still an uphill battle.  So, too, for certain sectors of the economy; tech is bouncing back, while construction and manufacturing continue to struggle.

Unemployment is one of the touchstones of politics, and so these latest numbers are no doubt going to be packaged and spun by politicos all across California in this election year.

Those without a political ax to grind will tell you that elected officials -- governors and presidents, in particular -- usually get too much credit for good economic times and too much blame for bad ones.

Nonetheless, the good news on the job front will no doubt make interesting political fodder in the coming weeks and months.

Consider how quickly the fight can change.  On Thursday, state Republicans tweeted about Apple's decisions to expand its Texas operations, by saying "Anyone surprised?"

But Friday morning, after the new unemployment report, Democrats were happy to fire back.

"Silence is deafening from @CAGOP," tweeted Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio.

And count on the supporters and opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative to view the new data in starkly different ways; Team Jerry will no doubt say that California is on the way back, while opponents of his tax hiking Proposition 30 will say the nascent jobs growth will stop dead in its tracks if taxes are increased.

And keep in mind that unemployment rates in some key electoral areas of the state could also play a big role.  Los Angeles County  -- home to more California voters than anywhere else -- reported a June unemployment rate of 11.1 percent, higher than the statewide average.

Legislative and congressional campaigns will certainly try to get whatever advantage they can muster from the local data.  Just this morning, Democrats and organized labor said they plan to protest in front the district office of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, for not supporting national Democratic jobs-related legislation.  And in case you're curious, unemployment in the GOP incumbent's home base of Stanislaus County is 15.8 percent -- one of the highest county rates in the state.

But economic experts urge more reasoned discussions, pointing out that state economies aren't made or broken in a single decision or a single month -- but are influenced by long-term policies and -- sorry, local politicians -- national and global trends.


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