California’s Employment Picture

Total employment in California pulled back in June from a recovery high of 16.5 million, set in May. This data series has been volatile, with annual revisions each year that have shifted the trough in total employment between early 2009 and early 2010. For now, the low was set in November of 2009, at 15.93 million. While “recovery” seems the right word to use in describing California’s job market, it is still the case that unemployment is hanging at 10.7%, per the most recent data. That’s the third highest state rate, in the country. Worse, as of Q1, California’s “U-6”, the broad measure of unemployment, was still above 20%. | see: California Employment in Millions (seasonally adjusted) 2000-2012.

Total employment, at 16.48 million as of June, compares to the 16 – 16.25 million level that California saw in the 2000-2004 period, which covered the previous recession. Overall, based on state energy consumption, revenues, population growth, poverty levels and food stamp use, it’s not clear whether California’s economy is growing, if at all. For example, in the same way that the bankruptcies of Stockton and San Bernardino are not proof the state is going into recession, surges of revenue from Silicon Valley ipo activity are not proof that the state economy is in recovery. (I have a larger report on these issues, coming soon).


  • A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation may explain why the employment situation is so intractable.

    The difference between the current price per barrel of oil and the price ten years ago is about $100 – $40 = $60.

    At 19M barrels per day of U.S. consumption, $60 per barrel in additional cost works out to about $17/hour for each of the 12 million U.S. citizens who are currently unemployed.

    A return to $40 oil is not in the cards.  But since food is energy, it may be sufficient for the government to spend the equivalent, $400M per year, on a universal food stamp program.