California has a special place in the American psyche. It is the Golden State: a playground of the rich and famous with perfect weather. It symbolises a lifestyle of sunshine, swimming pools and the Hollywood dream factory.
But the state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kenneth Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: "California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America."
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Published: October 2, 2009
After several months in which the American economy flashed tentative signs of improvement, a sobering report on the national job market released on Friday amplified worries that a lengthy period of lean times lay ahead.
The economy shed 263,000 jobs in September, and the unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent in August, according to the Labor Department’s monthly snapshot of the employment picture.
Though the job market worsened, the pace of deterioration remained markedly slower than during the early months of the year, when roughly 700,000 jobs a month were disappearing. That improvement seems consistent with the widespread belief that the recession has given way to economic growth. Yet the report also buttressed fears that economic expansion would be weak and hesitant, with scarce paychecks and economic anxiety remaining prominent features of American life well into next year.
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October 3, 2009
|Those who do cling to the absurd belief that, absent exponential productivity gains, the economy can expand while workers are being laid off will undergo a massive test of their convictions now that it’s clear the employment picture is bleak.|
For those market boosters who are prattling on about the possibility of a “jobless recovery,” I offer an invitation to join me for a breakfast of “fat-free bacon,” “eggless omelets,” and “no-carb bread.” As unappetizing as such a meal may sound, it would nevertheless offer more substance than the oxymoronic concept of an economic resurgence without job creation.
Those who do cling to the absurd belief that, absent exponential productivity gains, the economy can expand while workers are being laid off will undergo a massive test of their convictions now that it’s clear the employment picture is bleak. Today’s weaker-than-expected report on non-farm payrolls revealed that employers shed 263,000 jobs in September. The losses propelled the headline unemployment rate to a 26-year high of 9.8%. U6, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most complete measure of unemployment, has risen to a dismal 17%. This figure includes those people who want to work full time, but have simply given up looking, or who have accepted part-time work in the interim. As it is similar to the methodology used during the Great Depression, U6 offers better historical perspective on the severity of our current crisis.
Taken together with yesterday’s larger-than-expected pickup in unemployment claims (first time claims rose by 17,000 to 551,000), today’s report makes it certain that the job market is still contracting, even while some indicators like GDP and consumer confidence are moving in the opposite direction.
There is no question that the sense of panic has temporarily subsided. In recent interviews, Treasury Secretary Geithner has been almost giddy in his descriptions of the recovery – all the while crediting his own policies for averting disaster. Americans are once again taking the government’s bait by spending money they don’t have to buy things they can’t afford. Evidence of this trend was contained in data released earlier this week which showed that even while income growth was largely stagnant, U.S. consumers showed the biggest month-over-month increase in personal spending in ten years! With the same report showing a 25% drop in the savings rate, the source of the spending money is clear. But depleting savings and increasing borrowing does not a recovery make.