Looking for Work: Which Cities Are the Worst?

Among the first to predict the potential for a real estate bubble back in 2005, these days Adibi is more upbeat, pointing to rising sales of single-family homes, particularly at the lower end of the market. California's inventory of unsold homes is now down to about six months' worth, a figure well below the national average of 9.6 months.

It seems not everyone is ready to abandon the Golden State--but still, recovery in California may prove weaker than in surrounding states. One forecaster, Bill Watkins, even predicts unemployment could reach 15% next year, up from about 11% today. California, most likely, will see only an anemic recovery in 2010 even if growth picks up elsewhere.

Much of the problem lies with the state's notoriously inept government. The enormous budget deficit will almost certainly lead to tax increases, which will fall mostly on the state's vaunted high-income entrepreneurial residents. Stimulus funds won't do much good either, Adibi notes, since "the state is grabbing all of the federal stimulus money" to keep itself afloat.

A draconian regulatory environment also could dim California's prospects for growth. Despite double-digit unemployment, the state seems determined not only to raise taxes but also to tighten its regulatory stranglehold.

This is a stark contrast to what happened in the 1990s during the last deep recession. At that time, leaders from both political parties pulled together to reform the state's regulatory and tax environment. Almost everyone recognized the need to improve the economic climate.

But an even deeper recession, it seems, hardly troubles today's dominant players--public employees, environmental activists and gentry liberals who largely live along the coast. The state has recently passed a draconian Assembly bill aimed to offset global warming by capping greenhouse gas emissions--a measure that seems designed to discourage productive industry.

"This is becoming a horrible place to produce anything," says Watkins, who is executive director of the Economic Forecast Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

California's lawyers, though, might stay busy. Attorney General Jerry Brown has threatened to sue anyone who grows their business in unapproved, environment-threatening ways. To be sure, this promise may have relatively little impact on the more affluent, aging coastal communities--but it could wreak havoc on younger, less tony areas in the state's interior. Many of the local economies there still reply on resource-dependent industries like oil, manufacturing and agriculture.

It's sad because California has the capacity to recover more quickly than the rest of the country if the state moderates its spending and stops regulating itself into oblivion. This current round of legislation is so dangerous precisely because it could eviscerate the heart of the economy by slowing down entrepreneurial growth, the state's greatest asset.

Even in hard times, there are people with innovative ideas trying to bring them to market--and not just in Hollywood- and Silicon Valley-based industries but in a broad range of fields, from garments to agriculture, aerospace and processed foods. The desire to increase regulation reflects a peculiar narcissism and arrogance of the state's ruling elites, who believe the genius of San Francisco's venture capitalists and Los Angeles' image-makers alone are enough to spark a powerful recovery.

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