Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Economic figures show why so many are ‘feeling the Bern’

Employers seek new workers at a career fair in San Jose last November. A new study says it ranked highest in the nation in economic growth and prosperity between 2009 and 2014.
Employers seek new workers at a career fair in San Jose last November. A new study says it ranked highest in the nation in economic growth and prosperity between 2009 and 2014. Bloomberg

In his last State of the City speech, Mayor Kevin Johnson declared that Sacramento was on the verge of greatness, if only it could get its innovation economy rolling.

A new study, however, shows just how far Sacramento and the region have to go.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution says that local leaders should seek long-term economic development that raises the standard of living for everyone. Sounds right to me.

Brookings researchers tracked changes in economic growth, prosperity and inclusion in the 100 biggest U.S. metro areas. Sacramento ranks 70th in growth and 80th in prosperity between 2009 and 2014, according to the analysis, which coincidentally came out the same day as Johnson’s event last week.

To use the mayor’s roller coaster analogy, Sacramento is still chugging up the big hill, not nearly at the peak.

Even worse, Sacramento ranked 84th for inclusion, which means not enough of us are sharing in the economic recovery. It fares better on inclusion by race (ranking 37th), which is crucial for a city that prides itself on being one of the most diverse in the nation.

To his credit, Johnson called for good jobs to be spread out across the city, especially in poorer neighborhoods. Still, he’s leaving a lot of heavy lifting for the next mayor.

For instance, the average standard of living in the Sacramento region declined 2 percent during the recovery. Only seven metro areas in the nation fared worse, including Fresno and Stockton.

Among California metro areas, San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, hit the trifecta. Between 2009 and 2014, it was tops in the nation in growth (measured by jobs, total wages and total value of goods and services produced) and in prosperity (measured by average wages, standard of living and productivity) and third in inclusion (measured by median wage, employment rate and poverty rate).

San Francisco also ranked high in growth and prosperity, while Stockton was worst in California in growth and in prosperity. Riverside was the only California metro below Sacramento on inclusion.

Nationally, the study shows that while economic growth is widespread and some cities are booming, the recovery hasn’t benefited everyone. The rising tide isn’t lifting all boats, especially if the people in those boats happen to be poor or black or brown.

Only nine metro areas (San Jose among them) beat the average in all four categories of growth, prosperity, inclusion and inclusion by race. Median wages dropped in 80 metros, and in only 21 did the gap narrow significantly between whites and non-whites in wages, employment and poverty.

While President Barack Obama had every right to brag Friday about the nation’s lowest jobless rate in eight years, there are real reasons why so many are “feeling the Bern.”

When Bernie Sanders talks about a rigged economy that mostly benefits the wealthy, Americans living these numbers know exactly what he’s saying.

By the numbers

Where California metro areas ranked among the biggest 100 in the U.S. in growth, prosperity, inclusion and racial inclusion, plus the change in standard of living between 2009 and 2014:

  • San Jose: 1, 1, 3, 60; +20.3%
  • San Francisco: 9, 11, 49, 79; +7.0%
  • Bakersfield: 19, 94, 79, 3; -1.7%
  • San Diego: 31, 50, 57, 40; +3.4%
  • Riverside: 36, 79, 90, 26; +2.7%.
  • Los Angeles: 39, 48, 75, 56; +6.1%
  • Fresno: 69, 93, 77, 65; -3.0%
  • Sacramento: 70, 80, 84, 37; -2.0%
  • Stockton: 84, 96, 80, 38; -3.1%

Source: Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution