How's this for a statistical coincidence?
In December, California's "seasonally adjusted" unemployment rate was 8.3%, reflecting its slow recovery from its worst postwar recession that had driven the jobless rate as high as 12.9% four years earlier.
Twenty years earlier, in December 1993, the state's unemployment rate was 8.7%, reflecting its slow recovery from a recession that had seen unemployment topping out at 10.4%.
Over that 20-year period, California's population increased by 22%, while its civilian labor force increased by 22.2% and employment increased by 22.3%.
So in a sense, things hadn't changed a great deal. But in fact they had changed a lot, because during that two-decade-long stretch, the state had seen multiple economic ups and downs.
Counterintuitively, however, one important economic indicator remained constant during these ups and downs, a constant decline in the "labor-force participation rate" — the percentage of working-age residents 16 to 64 who are either working or looking for work.
The state Employment Development Department has charted a steady decline in the participation rate to a current 62.2%, the lowest since 1978.
Baby boomers taking early retirement account for some of the participation decline. But as Michael Bernick, a former EDD director, points out, other factors include middle-aged workers unable to find good jobs in a tech-dominated economy. They contribute to a sharp rise in those claiming Social Security disability payments before reaching retirement age.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the availability of federally subsidized health care will drive labor-force participation even lower. Another disturbing aspect is the underemployment of many who remain in the workforce.
The current "U-6" rate for California is 17.8% of its labor force, more than twice the official unemployment rate. The decline in Californians who are working productively or want to work bodes ill for our economic future.
Dan Walters writes for The Bee's Capitol bureau. E-mail: dwalters@sacbee. com; mail: P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852.