“This natural disaster is a different kind of shock to the system than a typical business cycle. Natural Disasters, as tragic as they come, do not have long-run economic consequences.” –Christopher Thornberg Ph.D.
Written by: Rachel Silverman | Freelance Reporter for IEBJ
Thursday, June 24th, the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted the 5th Annual San Bernardino County Economic Forecast Conference at The Enterprise Building in Downtown San Bernardino, co-hosted by the UCR School of Business: Center for Economic Forecasting and Development. Christopher Thornberg. Ph.D., the Director of the UCR Center for Economic Forecasting and Development, led the forecast report.
Edward Ornelas, Jr., President & CEO of the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce opened the conference with welcome remarks. Guests also heard a brief update from San Bernardino County’s 5th District Supervisor Mr. Joe Baca. Jian Torkin, a Commercial Real Estate Developer at RDICO provided a virtual presentation and update regarding the Downtown San Bernardino Carousel Mall redevelopment project. Earlier in the year, the City of San Bernardino voted 6-1 awarding RDICO the contract as master developer of the now vacant Carousel Mall. RDICO is a joint venture between two developer agencies — Renaissance Downtowns USA & ICO Group of Companies, hence “RDICO”. Additional reports and forecasting were provided by Patrick Adler, Ph.D.
Despite recent contradicting headlines about the state of the economy, Christopher Thornberg brought data to the table to truly explain the current state of California’s economy in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“This was going to be a rapid economic recovery, regardless, because that’s what happens after natural disasters come to an end.” But with the addition of the priorly upcoming presidential election, both parties became embroiled in a contest of lobbing money at the economy. “This has taken what was going to be a rapid recovery and turned it into a rocket ship recovery.” Here Thornberg is referencing the $3.5 trillion in stimulus checks and tax relief provisions granted under the Trump administration and the addition of the $1.9 trillion relief plan added to the national debt under the Biden administration.
“That’s not costless.” Thornberg warns when referring to the stimulus, “When you are using fiscal policy and borrowing trillions of dollars when you are not using monetary policy and expanding the money supply at a record pace, there are very real consequences to those policy decisions. The gains we got relative to the cost we could face do not match up.”
“Right now, the recession is officially over.” declares Thornberg. The Pandemic Recession’s contraction has officially ended and was extremely short. It seems economic activity bottomed out sometime in April 2020, about 6 weeks after the February peak. Personal Income has gradually been rising since then (with a small dip in late October- early November,) and now we’re back to where we were before everything shut down.
But what about unemployment rates? “We’re below 6% right now. Of course, it’s still a little bit elevated.” But demand for labor isn’t weak, and yet jobs are down. “There were 9.3 million job openings in April. That’s the highest it’s ever been.” This is not a labor demand shortage; this is a labor supply shortage.
Now, why is this happening? Unemployment rates in California were at 7.9% as of May. This is in comparison to the historic high that occurred in April 2020 at 16%. For even more reference California’s historic low was not much before that in November of 2019 at 4.1%. Thornberg wants to make it known that it’s not as simple as ‘people just don’t want to work.’ “Some of it is just basic skill matches. You can’t just take a line cook and turn him into a manufacturing worker. It takes a little time.” This is especially prevalent in this cycle, where certain industries are still behind while others have surpassed pre-covid employment demand.
“Durable goods are way up, Services are way down,” Thornberg says. The fact of the matter is that some industries thrived during the pandemic. While restaurants closed down, sporting and hobby stores got more business than usual. That’s going to create an uneven recovery.
Another factor contributing to this phenomenon is the percentage of unemployed people who are temporarily laid off. “20% of people who are unemployed, well over a million, are actually in a temporary layoff. That means they’re not looking for a job. They’re waiting for their job to go back.”And some may say, ‘Well, there’s high unemployment payments, so people just don’t want to work.” Thornberg explains that it’s not so simple, “People have money in the bank, they’re not under a lot of financial stress. And that may mean they don’t want to work, and it may mean they just don’t want to work here.” He paints the picture for us, “Look; if you have money in the bank, you’re not gonna take the first retail job that shows up. You’re gonna wait for a job that’s gonna give you a career path. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing that people are taking their time.”
“The U.S. and California economies are going to take off like rockets in the second half of this year – and we’ll likely see higher-than-normal growth for at least two years, if not more.” ~ Christopher Thornberg