Antelope Valley bears scars of recession

 

Jobs were lost. Homes were foreclosed. Businesses shuttered. These were dark days for the nation's economy and the Antelope Valley's future.

We are not speaking of the "Great Depression" but rather the "Great Recession" -the catastrophic economic downturn that officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

It is five years into the "recovery." The scars left from the financial meltdown can still be seen and felt today, but there is finally some glimpse of optimism on the horizon.

Home prices are rising. Foreclosures and jobless rates are falling. New businesses are calling the Antelope Valley home.

"There's nothing like seeing sticks coming out of the ground to signal the end of a recession," Vern Lawson, Jr., Lancaster's director of economic development, told the Valley Press.

Those "sticks" include a new hotel, two major medical facilities, a cancer clinic and a county health clinic all now under construction or open for business in the region. That's just for openers.

Palmdale is welcoming new retailers and restaurants, from Dick's Sporting Goods to Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Lancaster has its BYD electric bus factory churning out orders down the assembly line. Everywhere you look, there is a reason to believe the future is brighter.

Here are three major economic indicators that show how far the Antelope Valley has come and how much further it still needs to go.

Jobs

In November of 2007, just a month before the "Great Recession" started, Palmdale and Lancaster had a combined total of 103,200 jobs. By the time the two cities had hit rock bottom - a new total of 93,100 jobs - the losses were stark. Between the two cities, an estimated 10,100 jobs were lost.

Flash-forward to April of this year. The two cities now boast a combined 100,700 jobs. That's still lower from pre-recession levels - by 2,500 jobs -but it is also a 7,600 job increase from the depths, according to an analysis of state Employment Development Department data by Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

At the beginning of the recession, the two cities' jobless rate was 7.4%. By July 2010, that figure had exploded to 17.4%. In April of this year, the combined jobless rate for Lancaster and Palmdale stands at 10.2%.

Sales tax revenue

When residents lose their jobs, their ability to spend and fuel the economy is threatened. No more weekend movies or trips out to eat. No more family vacations that require gas, food and lodging.

Between 2006 and 2009, taxable retail sales for Palmdale and Lancaster declined by a combined $984 million. That is a punishing figure.

Both cities have snapped back, somewhat, since July 2010. Palmdale's gross sales tax receipts have increased from $14.35 million in 2010 to $17.9 million in 2013. Lancaster, which posted gross tax receipts of $14.7 million in 2010, has increased its share to $17.9 million in 2013. The needles are pointed in a positive direction.

Housing

One of the biggest casualties of the "Great Recession" was the nation's housing market. The Antelope Valley bore the brunt of this collapse. The median home price in Palmdale saw a 62.7% decline from its pre-recession heights.

Lancaster's median home prices fell 63.4% from their peaks.

Only 10 years ago, foreclosures accounted for an estimated 3% of the home-resells in Palmdale and Lancaster. During the worst days of the meltdown, foreclosures were 84% of the market in Lancaster and 83.7% in Palmdale, according to the data from the real estate tracking firm Zillow.

By April of this year, foreclosures accounted for 17.5% of the home resells in Lancaster and 18.3% for Palmdale.

Prices are also on the upswing, posting double-digit, year-over-year gains in the last few months. Palmdale's median home sales price is up 39% from its recession low. Lancaster's median home price is up 48.4%.

The race is not over, not by a long shot. But, little by little, the Antelope Valley has made up ground and closed the gap between what was gained and what was lost.

That's reason enough to smile, even as we struggle through a "recovery" with no end in sight.

 

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