By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 10/09/13, 6:52 PM PDT | Updated: 2 hrs ago

ONTARIO >> While the Inland Empire experienced major losses in the manufacturing and construction sectors during the Great Recession, the unemployment gap is closing, economic output is steadily increasing and the housing sector is showing signs of recovery, a Claremont McKenna College professor said Wednesday,

“You could be assured the recovery is in full force,” said Manfred W. Keil, an associate professor at Claremont McKenna and former chairman of the college’s Robert Day School of Economics and Finance, at the fourth annual Inland Empire Economic Forecast Conference at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

The conference, a joint effort between Claremont McKenna and UCLA, also featured a panel on the anticipated impacts of the Affordable Care Act in the Inland Empire. The panel, moderated by Randall Lewis, executive vice president of Upland-based homebuilder Lewis Group of Companies, was composed of Claremont McKenna President Deborah Freund, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janice Rutherford, and Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione.

According to a report released Wednesday at the conference, the Inland Empire’s gross domestic product grew by 2 percent in 2013 and was expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014 and 2015. But those numbers are well below pre-recession gross domestic product growth from 2001 and 2005.

The Inland Empire’s unemployment rate has shown a sharp decline in the last three years, dropping from a staggering 14.4 percent in 2010 to 9.9 percent in August, bringing the region more in line with state and national unemployment rates. That trajectory is expected to continue through 2015, But, just as with the gross domestic product, unemployment levels have not and are not expected to recover to pre-recession levels of roughly 5 percent, but there is hope, Keil said.

“Eventually we will get back to the good times of 5 percent, but it’s not going to be soon,” Keil said, adding that even though the unemployment rate has declined, it’s not necessarily a good thing.

He said two factors are driving unemployment rates, rising employment and a shrinking job force.

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