Matthew Fienup, executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University, shared his annual breakdown of the dynamics affecting the economy on the national, state and Ventura County levels Thursday afternoon, and the local forecast was overall bleak but cemented by an optimism over how best to remedy a situation which essentially boiled down to “build more housing.”
Before some 260 people in attendance at the Padre Serra Center in Camarillo, Fienup delivered his 2019 Ventura County Economic Forecast, informing his audience that the local economy “has been in a recession,” pointing to a growth rate that is hovering just above zero, on par with the last five years. “This is the weakest period for which we have data,” he said.
Fienup began his talk by examining the big picture.
“A year ago, there was a surprising degree of optimism on the CERF team,” he said, noting that on the national level, the forecasters were bullish on the incoming corporate tax reform while stocks hit an all-time high and unemployment hit record lows.
However, Fienup slowly built his case that economic observers must look beyond the low interest rate-driven stock market, dipping unemployment rates and even the inverted yield curve in determining the health of an economy and investigate “what’s happening to the labor force.”
“Stock prices are disconnected from the fundamentals,” he said.
The labor force, Fienup continued, has deteriorated and will continue to diminish as 350,000 baby boomers, akin to the population of Anaheim, exit the work force each month.
On the state level, CERF foresees 2.6 percent growth, which Fienup said “is not strong growth and very below the 3.5 percent or 4 percent growth potential of California.”
For the past five years, Ventura County economy’s has been flat, and driving that has been a lack of development compounded by a housing crisis shortage, diminishing population and birth rates, and more people leaving California than moving into the state.
“The population in Ventura County has declined for the first time in history,” Fienup said, with population loss largest in the cities of Ventura and Thousand Oaks, which Fienup chalked up to the 2017 Thomas Fire and the 2018 Woolsey Fire, respectively.
“A strong economy can withstand the outside shocks,” Fienup said.
In his introduction to Fienup, CERF Director Dan Hamilton said that May statistics identified that the Ventura County population has contracted.