When June's employment data were released last week, some analysts quickly hailed them as indicators of a strong California recovery from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Steve Levy, who directs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, was particularly upbeat, to wit:
"California has now posted two blockbuster months for job growth, and the economy has regained some mojo for moving forward. The state added 38,300 jobs in June and 45,900 jobs in May for a two-month total of 84,200 jobs or an astounding 50 percent of the national job increase in these two months."
One assumes that Levy won't be branded a "declinist," Gov. Jerry Brown's sobriquet for those with a less-than-rosy outlook.
At the risk of earning such a gubernatorial epithet once again, let's put the new jobs report and other recent economic data in a larger, perhaps more realistic, context.
Non-agricultural wage and salary employment in California last month was 14.3 million, and total employment including the self-employed was 16.5 million. With 18.5 million in a "labor force" of potential workers, that means just under 2 million were jobless for an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent.
A year earlier, unemployment was just over 200,000 higher and the unemployment rate was 11.9 percent, so June was a definite improvement. But it was still the third-highest rate in the nation, nearly a third higher than the national rate.
More disturbingly, there were fewer Californians receiving paychecks in June than there were 10 years earlier, in 2002, even though the state's population had increased by 3 million, according to a Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. compilation.
California may be recovering, but without some big surge, returning to where we used to be will take many years. The LAEDC's forecast is for California to recover "slowly but steadily" but with double-digit unemployment at least into 2013.
The other emerging facet of the slow recovery is that it's very uneven in economic, sociological and geographic terms.
The most vigorous job growth is found, as Levy also notes, in the coastal centers of technology, while inland regions and their agriculture-, manufacturing- and transportation-centered economies continue to lag.
The technology-heavy San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, has jobless rates at or below those at the national level, with Marin County, at 6.6 percent, the state's lowest. But high double-digit rates are still evident in inland areas, topped by a stunning 28.2 percent in mostly Latino Imperial County.
So far, therefore, our slow recovery is reinforcing our evolution into a two-tier economy, and therefore a two-tier society.
That's reality, not declinism.