The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

January 26, 2009
California Index: welfare

Here is another in my series of charts giving a snapshot of the quality of life in California:

Welfare. California's welfare rolls climbed in the past year for the first time since 2005, and at a faster rate than any time since they began dropping after the federal welfare reform in the mid-1990s. California had nearly 920,000 families on public assistance in 1995 before new work requirements and time limits were imposed. That number bottomed out at 456,000 in 2007. But this year it is back up to 477,000 and likely to keep climbing.

January 26, 2009
McClintock now big fed's big defender

We always thought Tom McClintock was a local-control guy, favoring muni and state government over the big bad bureaucracy in Washington. But now that McClintock has moved from the Legislature to Congress, he wants the feds to keep stomping on California's right to regulate how much smog cars spew into the air here. When word started leaking out that Obama's EPA would likely withdraw federal opposition to California setting more stringent clean-air standards, McClintock claimed that a strong, vigorous federal government is needed to protect consumers (not to mention automakers) from the wrath of California regulators.

McClintock said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was "asking the president to waive a federal law that currently protects California consumers from the governor's crusade to save the planet by destroying California's economy." McClintock added:

"The net effect of his request would add between $1,000 and $5,000 to the price of every car sold in California. Automobile sales normally account for one-fifth of sales taxes paid in the once-Golden State and total sales tax receipts are already down $1.5 billion over the last 12 months."

But shouldn't California consumers have the sovereign right to raise the price of their cars in the cause of cleaner air, if that's really what would happen?

Here is a McClatchy story on the issue.

UPDATE: Here is a reaction from McClintock: "Dan Weintraub suggests that advocates of limited government like myself should welcome the federal government allowing states like California's to impose radical new restrictions on vehicle emissions that will raise the price of a new car by as much as $5,000. The reason our Constitution empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce is precisely to prevent one state from running amok, impeding the free flow of commerce across state lines and negatively impacting the economies of other states and of the nation." 

January 22, 2009
California Index: spending

This chart is one in a series using statistical measures to assess the well being of California. This one is by request, sort of. A reader asked us to track the trend in taxes as a percentage of the economy over time. I have not found a ready source for those numbers, but this is close. This chart tracks state spending as a percentage of the economy, and since spending is financed by taxes one way or another (a deficit simply means the postponement of the tax collections), this is a close approximation.

The chart shows that spending since 1991 has tracked within a fairly narrow range. For the general fund it has been roughly between 6 percent and 7 percent of the economy. For all funds, between the high-sevens and the mid-nines:


Source: Department of Finance, state budget
January 22, 2009
California Index: Poverty

Here is the latest measure from the list of statistical indictors that are part of my California quality of life index published in Sunday's Forum.....We are going to archive these and update them. Let me know if you think of additional measures we should be using.

 Poverty. Poverty declined markedly in California during the dot-com boom. It wasn't just the rich who got richer. But once the boom went bust, the poverty rate went pretty much stagnant, hovering around 13 percent, give or take half a point. It went up early in this decade, then declined, and in 2007 it climbed again, up to 12.7 percent.

January 21, 2009
California Index: jobs

Here are the latest charts in my California Index of quality-of-life indicators....

Jobs. This chart shows that the number of jobs in California generally kept pace with the growth in the labor force over the past decade -- until this year,when the number of jobs declined while the number of people entering the labor force grew. Overall, from 1998 through 2008, the cilvilian labor force has grown by about 2.3 million since 1998. The number of civilian jobs has climbed by about 1.7 million.

Source: Employment Development Department

Unemployment. The result of that divergence between the number of jobs and the number of people seeking jobs in 2008 was a big jump in unemployment.

Source: Employment Development Department


UPDATE: Here is a chart I did not have room for in the print column. It shows the recent trend in jobs by industry category. This chart shows November 2006, 2007 and 2008, seasonably adjusted. You can see that the biggest drops have come in construction. manufacturing, retail trade and financial activities. Leisure and hospitality has held its own while education, health and government have grown.

Source: Employment Development Department
January 20, 2009
'I know what you're all about'

When I got in this morning I had an angry voice mail on my machine that was left by an anonymous caller over the weekend. The caller said he had looked at he charts that went with my Sunday column but did not read the column because, he said, "I've read you before and I know what you are all about." 

The funny thing is, at that moment in listening to the voice mail, I realized I had absolutely no idea what he was going to say next. What am I all about? I think I know, but it is hard to explain, impossible to pigeon hole and somehow I didn't think this guy had figured it all out by just looking at the pictures. Turns out his answer was that I am a "Republican and a conservative" and it is people like me who got this state into the mess it is in. Ok. But he could have been an angry conservative accusing me of being a liberal big spender and I would not have been surprised.

I don't know if it is me, or our readers managing to see what they want to see, but I have been accused of being on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Usually not by the same person.

January 20, 2009
California Index: income

My column on Sunday featured the latest update of my Quality of Life Index, in which I check in on a dozen statistical measures of life in California. But in this age, 12 measures seems like a puny number, and once a year is not often enough for an update. So I am going to try to create an archive of charts that I can update as new data is available, and I can add more if readers suggest good ideas. Here are the first two charts, on personal income per capita and median family income. You can click on the data points on the graph to see the underlying numbers:

 Personal income per capita. This chart shows that income per capita measured in current dollars and adjusted for inflation has climbed over the past ten years. Adjusted for inflation, income per person in California climbed by about 27 percent between 1997 and 2007. In the most recent year for which numbers are available, per capita income grew by 4.3 percent, or 1.7 percent after inflation.

Source: Department of Finance

Median family income. Median family income has not risen as fast as per capita income. Between 1997 and 2007, median family income increased by about 18 percent after adjusting for inflation. In the most recent year, median family income grew by 8.8 percent, or 6.1 percent after inflation.

Source: Department of Finance

January 15, 2009
Schwarzenegger strikes the right tone

I thought the guv's speech was just about right. There has been plenty of combat already, and there will be more. This was a chance to take things down a notch, and he succeeded, with an almost plaintive tone. He is right about the partisanship. The Capitol is obsessed with ideology and defending narrow interests in a way that the general public just cannot understand or relate to. The state is $20-billion short on an ongoing basis. Revenues are $10-billion-plus below the level that Republican lawmakers thought were adequate a few months ago, so adequate that they threatened to override the governor's veto if necessary to put in place a $100 billion dollar general fund. Now revenues are below $90 billion.

We all know the problem is not going to be solved without new revenue, or without deeper cuts. It is just a matter of finding the right combination of the two, and the right mix of temporary and permanent measures and reforms. I don't agree with everything Schwarzenegger is proposing, but right now he does seem to be the only person in the room talking honestly about the problem and willing to try anything to find a solution.

One thing I definitely don't like is his cheap hit on taking away pay if the budget is not done on time. The public loves that idea but it is bad policy. It creates a deep, personal economic conflict of interest for lawmakers at budget time. Those who are independently wealthy could hold out forever. Those who depend on their state paycheck to pay the bills would be forced to cave in. Bad idea.

January 12, 2009
Fox: tax hike likely
Longtime taxfighter Joel Fox appears in this blog item to be all but resigned to the idea that higher taxes will inevitably be part of any budget deal. But he says a spending limit will be, too.
January 12, 2009
Shorter school year not a bad idea

In this editorial the SF Chronicle rips the guv's idea for allowing schools to shave five days off the 180-day school year in 09/10 to save as much as $1.1 billion. The editorial calls it a "dunce" of an idea. But is it that bad? Anyone who has had kids in school knows there are plenty of wasted days. Many schools ease up completely once standardized testing is done for the year, usually in May. And the final week is notoriously frittered away with movies, parties and the like. So in this economic climate, facing what amounts to a fiscal emergency, taking 5 days off the academic year certainly seems like an idea worth discussing rather than dismissing out of hand. It surely must be better than many other options for saving $1.1 billion. The biggest downside effect from the change might be that it would force parents of young children to find alternate supervision for their kids.

Here is a Q and A on the proposal from the Bee's Cap bureau.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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