Good economic news is tough to find these days in Stockton. Unemployment, while receding, remains excruciatingly high, the housing industry is stagnant, and, lest we forget, the city is trudging its way through bankruptcy. Judging by these factors, Stockton is mired squarely in the doldrums, so much so that our Bakersfield neighbors to the south even considered holding an “our city isn’t bankrupt” themed promotion for the hockey team (sidenote: despite the Thunder’s lack of frat boy antics and giveaways, Stockton Arena has always averaged more fans per game for hockey than Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena). Times are bad, and outside news organizations love to portray Stockton as falling faster into decline. However, while the headlines are grim, economic indicators suggest that Stockton is not as bad off as we probably all think, especially considering how hard the recession hit us.
The Brookings Institution puts out a quarterly report called the Metro Monitor detailing the extent to which cities have recovered from the recession. The monitor uses a handful of key economic indicators– total employment, unemployment, total output (gross product), and house prices— capturing the change from each metro area’s low point to the most recent quarter of available data. Using prerecession years as a baseline, Brookings uses the data to determine which cities are recovering fastest, and which industries are leading the way to recovery.
In the most recent report, Stockton ranks 37th in the country out of the top 100 metro regions for recovery performance. By comparison, Sacramento, Modesto and Fresno rank 85th, 86th and 87th, respectively. Specifically, Stockton ranks 12th in employment, 14th in housing price,* 39th in unemployment and 79th in gross metro output. Not bad, considering the bad rap the area gets.
Over the last four quarters, the manufacturing industry has led the recovery with a 10.1% increase in employment. Government was the only significant industry to see a decline in the last year, with .3% reduction.
Stockton’s economic output was fueled by the oil and gas sector (huh?) with a 12.4% increase over the past four quarters. Construction, Finance and Information all made big gains as well. The only industries to post losses were agriculture (surprising) and real estate (not surprising).
While these numbers are comforting, they don’t really mean much without perspective. Luckily, Brookins provides plenty of information on how these current numbers stack up with how cities were doing before the recession, and Stockton is clearly moving in the right direction. Stockton’s current level of employment is 92.7% of what it was compared to 2007, when employment was at its highest. Similarly, output is up to 93.8% of prerecession levels.
Stockton is slowly but surely crawling out of the ditch, which is encouraging. However, this information needs to be put into context. Brookings’ analysis is meant to measure the extent to which cities have recovered using prerecession data as a baseline, and Stockton wasn’t exactly an economic superstar before the housing bust. In our boom years, the unemployment rate was still high compared to other cities, hovering around 7% to 8%. Right now, an unemployment rate equal to the mid 2000s looks pretty good, but for a healthy economy, a city should have under 5% unemployment.
Nevertheless, the Stockton region appears to be in a better position to recover than many other areas. Several cities, particularly in the rust and frost belts, are struggling more mightily, according to the Brookings index. Facing rapid population loss and declining industry, these cities face an uphill battle when it comes to reviving their economies. Stockton, contrary to popular belief, appears to be headed in the right direction.
*87 metro areas are tied at 14th