Oct. 16--Despite the country being on the verge of a debt default and the Bay Area being on the verge of not one, but two, mass transit strikes, all felt pretty hunky-dory Tuesday in the Janet Yellen Conference Center at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank.
John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, gave the Fed "a high grade for the actions we took to safeguard the financial system." California, we were informed, leads the nation in employment recovery, while the Bay Area is tops nationwide in terms of gross domestic product growth. As for high tech, which is transforming life as we know it, we're blowing the walls down.
"The future looks pretty bright -- if we play our cards right," concluded Sean Randolph, CEO of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, which released its seventh annual forecast at the session.
But the cards aren't falling right for everybody. While the U.S. economy is "surely making progress (and) job openings are increasing," noted Williams, "we aren't seeing a similar increase in the number of people being hired."
Why is that? The skills gap, a favorite explanation offered by the high-flying tech sector? Not according to recent studies. "It's more likely that it's still an employer's market," Williams explained. "There's no real sense of urgency to fill an opening unless the rare perfect candidate emerges."
Unfortunately, we don't have the latest government data to see whether that's changing: collateral damage from the Great Shutdown. That went unmentioned in the proceedings, except a brief reference to "going over the cliff" as being one of the "risk factors" in an otherwise healthy outlook.
"Everyone is uncertain about Washington's ability to overcome gridlock. None of this is bolstering anyone's confidence," Williams said.
On the local front, UCLA economist Jerry Nickelsburg put California right up there with Texas in terms of job growth. "Encouraged workers are coming back" in both states as well as in smaller states, such as Utah and North Dakota, he said. Not so much in other places, though.
"We've got a lot of discouraged workers, a lot of labor problems," said Nickelsburg, co-author of the latest UCLA Anderson Forecast. That includes inland California, so apart from the Bay Area in what Nickelsburg calls the state's "bifurcated economy."
There were questions relating to that bifurcation from the audience, expressed in terms of income inequality. "Creative destruction" summed up the answers: the information economy replacing the industrial economy, software replacing people, human hands no longer needed at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza.
Randolph pointed to an institute study that found one new tech job and the additional wealth it brought in created four new non-tech jobs in the Bay Area -- anything from architect to accountant to barista at Starbucks, other panelists observed.
And those not lucky enough to be caught in the rising tide? They'll have to find ways to do something else.
And the possible Bay Area mass transit strike? Thank goodness it didn't happen Tuesday, when the conference was scheduled.
All will be explained: San Francisco's Commonwealth Club is hosting a free town hall on the federal shutdown at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Featured speakers: UC Berkeley economist Alan Auerbach and Stanford University political scientist Tammy Frisby. Details at www.commonwealthclub.org.