Fresno continues to lag behind most of the nation in its pace of economic recovery, ranking 99th out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in a Washington think tank's latest analysis Wednesday.
The Brookings Institution's MetroMonitor index for the first quarter of 2012 places Fresno above only Little Rock, Ark., in the analysis of how well employment, unemployment, economic productivity and housing prices are bouncing back from recession. The Fresno metro area encompasses all of Fresno County, including Fresno, Clovis and the county's many small cities and towns.
What the figures mean is that while there is economic growth in Fresno, said Brookings research analyst Alec Friedhoff, a co-author of the report, it is even more sluggish than the nationwide recovery.
"These numbers reflect the growth during the recovery," Friedhoff said. "The case in Fresno is not that Fresno is declining, but that other metro areas are improving at a faster rate."
Unemployment in the county, which was 17.4% in March, has historically hovered well above state and national averages, and the central San Joaquin Valley was among the areas that was ravaged by the collapse of housing prices. But the heaviest anchor weighing Fresno down in the first quarter was what economists call the gross metropolitan product, or GMP -- the total value of all goods and services produced within the county.
Brookings economists reported that since the local trough of the recession in the first quarter 2010, economic output in the Fresno region has climbed back to about 96% of what it was at its previous peak in mid-2007. That performance, however, is slower than all but one of the top 100 metro areas. So far, GMP values in 70 of the 100 large metro areas have reached or surpassed their pre-recession peaks.
"If you look at the output curve from when Fresno entered the recovery period, the growth is pretty much flat" compared to the national average, Friedhoff said. "It's waiting for a bounceback."
Also slow to bounce back is the number of people who are working. Employment in Fresno County hit a peak in the third quarter of 2007 before the bottom fell out of the job market in 2009. Since late 2009, the county has regained about 92% of the jobs lost. But of the 100 large metro areas, 81 experienced a higher rate of job growth than Fresno in the first quarter of this year.
What isn't reflected in the report, Friedhoff said, is how many of those jobs -- locally or nationally -- may be lower-paying than those lost, how many are part-time, or how many people are holding down more than one job.
The Brookings analysis shows that Fresno is not alone among Central Valley markets that are struggling to recover. Stockton ranked 68th in the MetroMonitor report, while Sacramento and Modesto joined Fresno in the bottom 10 with ranks of 92 and 93, respectively. Only Bakersfield, buoyed by significant growth in construction employment through 2011 and in the first quarter of this year, cracked the top 25, ranking 22nd.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @tsheehan on Twitter.