Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The big news in Stanislaus County these days is that a big Internet retailer – almost certainly Amazon – will establish a huge distribution center in Patterson that would employ at least 1,500 workers.

Meanwhile, California new car sales reached nearly 1.3 million vehicles last year, a 9.9 percent improvement over 2010, and the state’s unemployment rate dipped in December to 11.1 percent, down 1.4 percentage points from the previous December, with at least a quarter-million more working.

Are they signals that California’s economy, clobbered by the worst recession since the Great Depression, is on the mend? “Indeed,” says Beacon Economics’ Chris Thornberg, “virtually all major economic indicators have been trending positively for the state, and the nation overall. The recovery is real.”

But there’s a lot of uncertainty about recovery’s rapidity and sustainability.

Gov. Jerry Brown concedes that recovery is slower than the administration thought it would be last year – which explains why state revenues are falling short of last year’s rosy assumptions.

“The employment bounceback from this very severe recession has been so weak that the state’s job level will not reach its pre-recession level until 2016,” his new budget says. “This slow jobs recovery, due in part to a housing market that remains mired in a slump, continues to take its toll on state revenues.”

The Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor, is slightly more optimistic than Brown about the economy but markedly less optimistic about revenues because they depend more on high-income taxpayers’ investment earnings than the general economy.

A quarter-million – or more – new jobs in the last year is certainly good news but it’s not incompatible with a fairly slow recovery.

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