Skip to content

“Mailbag” gives insight into the comments I get from my readers — good, bad or in-between — and my thoughts about their feedback.

Coverage of the workplace can boil emotions.

That’s not surprising since the job market is a volatile slice of the economy. My inbox highlights the debate over which statistics best portray the health of the employment picture. And readers have questions about my view on hiring and pay patterns.

Reader: “You are a leftist hack. You state . That is a fabricated stat from the administration. If you are going to talk labor statistics, why don’t you talk to the real one – the labor participation rate? That is at a historical low, yet you paint a rosy picture of a horrible California economy. Stop misleading the readers. Tell the real truth of what horrible leadership can do to a once-great state.”

My reply: As you wish, dear reader!

Let’s first note that the same federal survey that produces stats on unemployment also creates data on labor participation. That’s a measure of the number of people at work or seeking a job as a share of the population 16 years or older — so the big groups not participating are retirees and students.

My trusty spreadsheet found during the first eight months of 2022, California’s labor participation rate averaged 62.1%. That’s mid-range among the states  — 29th highest and just below the nation’s 62.4%.

My irked reader might have missed the participation rate’s noteworthy bounce from lows hit when the coronavirus locked down the economy in 2020.

California’s 2022 average to date is 2.3 percentage points above the recent bottom of 59.8% — the nation’s 21st largest reversal. The U.S. recovery is 1.9 points from a 60.5% low.

But participation hasn’t fully recovered as workers slowly return to the job market, largely due to retirements. California’s rate is off by a quarter-point from its pre-pandemic 2015-2019 average. Nationally, the rate is down nearly a full percentage point.

Reader: “I think the headline ‘‘ is misleading. Certainly, all workers will not be upended. Many will keep doing what they are doing. Many will be employed via the “spinoff.”. No doubt there will be employment casualties, but not all 164,000 will be upended.”

Another reader wrote: “Upend is a strong word that would only apply to a small minority. Why not say ‘impacted to varying degrees’ but that is not a very sensational headline – is it? Why do journalists almost always have a bias against business?”

My response: Maybe “upend” is too strong, but when any industry giants merge, there’s usually broad economic fallout both inside and outside the combined entities.

In this case, the two supermarket chains admit their deal’s competitive repercussions are so large it requires a “spinoff” of hundreds of stores. This would help serve as competition in communities where the combined entity would otherwise dominate the grocery business.

ɫ̳ of this merger stirs nervous emotions in almost every worker at the two merging chains. Anxieties also will rise among workers at grocery competitors. That’s 164,000 workers with something new to worry about at food stores across the region.

Skittishness will touch industry suppliers and contractors. Also, supermarket landlords will be watching carefully. As will other tenants in shopping centers because grocery stores are a major draw of customers.

And let’s not forget shoppers, whose grocery shopping options may change.

Note how badly one local grocery spinoff ended. Pacific Northwest grocer Haggen went bankrupt six months after buying 146 Albertsons and Vons stores — 83 in California — after those two chains merged.

Reader: “ is another word for massive illegal immigration. When a country, state, or whatever is inundated with poverty from third-world nations, it changes the makeup of a population. It’s one of the negative side effects.”

My response: Well, we do have a worker shortage — especially for many low-wage positions. Foreign workers — yes, legally here — are needed. 

Look at the states with the largest number of illegal immigrants — California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and Washington state.

Last year, income inequality in these states averaged 3% above the rest of the nation – a significantly higher income gap on what’s known as the “Gini” scale.

And household incomes in these 10 states averaged $73,258 in 2021 — 7% higher than $68,265 elsewhere.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California ɫ̳ Group. He can be reached at jlansner@scng.com

Originally Published:

More in Housing