Digging for the Good News (But Not Too Deep)
Unemployment is up for the third month in a row. More sectors are losing jobs than gaining them. The government sector in California has shed 27,300 jobs over the past year. State revenues are coming in below budgeted amounts. Baseball season is almost over. There’s bad news everywhere you turn these days.
But there is good news, and you don’t even have to do much digging, you just have to know where to look for the real story.
Let’s start small.
The number of non-farm jobs rose from last year to this for the eleventh straight year. Not many, and not enough to keep up with population growth, but still, growth of 1.2% is better than a stick in the eye.
Permitting for multi-family housing is incredibly strong, more than making up for some weakness in single-family home construction (which partly has to do with changes to construction standards and a resulting rush on single-family permitting at the end of last year).
Single-family permitting might be down, but sales of existing single-family homes went wild in August, more than enough to make up for a pretty bad July, and the homes went at good prices too, with the median sale price hitting a 2011 high.
But I saved the best for last. Even though the state’s revenues are down compared to budget expectations (no doubt you remember that the budget includes a previously unforecast $4 billion in extra revenue), personal income taxes are coming in well above expectations. Now some may say that it’s only because people are prepaying when they don’t have to (the rules changed and apparently not everyone got the memo), and that is boosting the September number. But even before September, income taxes were coming in above expectations.
In fact, without that $4 billion of magic revenue the budget relies on, the state would be a little above forecast revenues. So even with the loss of federal stimulus funds, and even with the slowest economic recovery in the history of the universe, and even with the loss of the temporary taxes rates, and the European debt crisis, and the demise of the shuttle program, things are okay.
The real story will begin to narrate itself in December, which is not only the first major revenue year for the state, but also when the Department of Finance will decide how many of the automatic cuts to trigger. Yes, they have to decide before we know the results of any of the state’s major revenue months (December, January, June, and April). That’s just the way it goes sometimes. If you make the decision any later it’s tough to get any savings in the budget year.
Also, while baseball season might be just about over, don’t look now, but all of California’s professional football teams have winning records (a combined 13-4). And the last team to leave California is 0-5. So everyone stay put and we’ll make it through this.
(All of the fiscal and financial numbers in this article come from the monthly Finance Bulletin published today by the California Department of Finance, which is reporting jobs numbers from August and state revenue numbers through September. That part about baseball season almost being over is original research, as are the football stats.)