So this is what economic recovery looks like: 12 percent unemployment, more vacant storefronts and a seemingly endless state budget crisis that will prolong the furloughs, layoffs and other wounds.
A prominent economist has declared California's recession over but acknowledged that most Californians might not even notice.
"It's going to feel like a recession for a while longer," said Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific, which issues its quarterly economic forecast today.
Sacramento area unemployment, which stood at 12.4 percent in November, won't shrink anytime soon, Michael predicted. It will average 12.3 percent this year and 10.8 percent next year. It won't fall to single digits until 2012.
In fact, the economy is so weak in Sacramento and the northern San Joaquin Valley, the recession won't actually end until midyear, said Michael, head of the university's Business Forecasting Center. For the rest of California, the recession ended in the fourth quarter of 2009, he said.
Michael's declaration comes amid a flurry of statistical releases that provide a mixed view of the economy. Fresh figures from the Institute for Supply Management showed that U.S. manufacturing activity in December rose to its highest level in nearly three years. But the National Association of Realtors reported a sharp drop in home sales in November, the first decline in a year, suggesting the housing market might undergo another downturn.
Mixed signals are somewhat common as an economy bottoms out; the early months of a recovery tend to be rocky. The unemployment rate is typically slow to fall, as employers are cautious about rehiring workers until they're sure the recovery is for real. Nevertheless, economist Chris Thornberg believes California's economy will eventually rebound smartly.
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