Saturday, February 20, 2016

After slow recovery, job growth fading again in Colorado Springs

A look at the unemployment rate in Colorado Springs suggests that things are going swimmingly. In fact, they're back to the old boom levels below five percent. During December 2015, the unemployment rate, was at four percent which was down from 5.1 percent during December of 2014:

The last time unemployment rates were generally this low was back during 2007, before the 2008 financial crisis and during the last boom.

The problem with the unemployment rate, though, is that it is a function of both labor force size and employment. That is, if people give up looking for work, leave town, settle for a part time job at a low wage, decide to live on student loans, or retire early, all these things can reduce the unemployment rate, even in the absence of any job growth.

If we look at payroll job growth, however (from the Establishment survey) we find that job growth has been slowing and has been in a downward trend for the past ten months.

During December 2015, payroll employment growth was at 0.8 percent, which was down by about half from the previous December's growth rate of 1.5 percent. In other words, December's employment was up by a mere 2,100 jobs, year over year. A year earlier, durign December 2014, job growth had been up by 4,100 jobs, year over year:

Moreover, job growth has never returned to the sort of job growth we saw before 2008, and it has taken seven years for total employment in Colorado Springs to get back to where it had been before the 2008 crisis. This next graph shows how many months went by before employment returned to previous peak levels. It begins with June 2007 as month 1, and then proceed to the right as each month passes with total employment below the peak level. You can see that employment finally returns to its peak level at the  85th month (more than seven years), which was December 2014. Since then, employment has continued above the old peak level:

This recovery time, by the way, was 26 months (or more than two years) longer than what was needed to recover all lost jobs following the dot-com bust in 2001. In this case, jobs peaked during June of 2001 and finally recovered during May of 2006:

(All employment data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Payroll numbers are from the "Establishment Survey" and unemployment percentages are from the "Household Survey.")

Are more twenty-somethings living at home in Colorado?

Household formation has long been an issue central to the demand for real estate. If people move out of their parents homes and create a new household, then a new housing unit will be demanded. If two people move out, and get one unit together then one new unit will be created out of two. If both people can afford to get their own apartments, then two new units will be created out of two.

Economic prosperity has long been connected to economic prosperity. If incomes are low, or housing costs are high, people will either stay at home or take on additional roommates to afford housing. If wages are high or housing costs are low,  more people will demand more units. This is moderated, of course, by people cohabiting for romantic/family reasons, such as marriage. In that case, two households will reduce to one even when economic times are good. 

Nevertheless, on the whole, there is reason to believe that when incomes and economic prosperity increase,  people tend to demand more housing units.

Are Young People Now Too Poor to Move Out? 

Last year, the New York Fed published an analysis on how many 25-year olds were living with their parents.  Here are their results

In 2003, between 20 and 30 percent of twenty-five-year-olds lived with their parents (using our measure) in twenty-five of the forty-eight states. By 2013, all forty-eight states had parental co-residence rates of more than 30 percent. Indeed, for twelve states, the parental co-residence rate for twenty-five-year-olds had risen above 50 percent. Four states—Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont—saw the rate at which twenty-five-year-olds live with their parents increase by more than twenty percentage points between 2003 and 2013. Parental co-residence was highest in Mid-Atlantic and Southern states in 2003, but by 2013 it was highest in the Northeast and Midwest. 

So, for the period of 2003-2013, there was indeed an increase in the number of people living at home. Here's what it looked like in 2003.  Colorado is in the 20%-30% range: 

But, by 2013, here's what it looked like. Colorado is in the 30%-40% range: 

In both cases, Colorado is ranked among the states with the fewest 25-year olds living at home. 

The NY Fed report goes on: 

Parental co-residence increased steadily for both age groups from at least 2003 through 2012, followed by a leveling off or slight decline in 2013. The chart also shows one measurement of household formation—homeownership—which has been decreasing for both twenty-five- and thirty-year-olds since 2007, the end of the housing bubble and the start of the Great Recession. While thirty-year-olds were twice as likely to own a home as they were to live with their parents in 2003, we find that they were equally likely to own a home or live with their parents in 2013. 

So what are the reasons for this? The report attempted to address that too: 

Our results demonstrate that local economic growth is a mixed blessing when it comes to building youth independence: Improvement in youth employment conditions enables young people to move away from their parents, but rising local house prices are estimated to have forced many young people to move back home. These two effects partially offset each other. 
However, the relationship we observe between rising student debt and co-residence with parents is clearer. The chart below presents a state-level scatter plot of the change in the rate of living with parents from 2008 to 2013 against the change in average student debt per graduate. 
It reveals a clear positive correlation between a state’s student debt growth and the rate at which its twenty-five-year-olds live with their parents. The regression line in the chart indicates that a $10,000 increase in student debt per graduate in the state is associated with an additional 2.9 percentage point rise in the rate of living with parents. (Estimates in the staff report that account for changes in the local economy and other factors tell a similar story.) 

So how does Colorado compare in terms of student debt? Fortunately for us, the Dallas Fed released a 2014 report on this, and the map looks like this: 

In Colorado, the mean (average) balance was $26,215, which puts it at 16th highest nationwide. 

Based on this statistic alone, then, we'd expect Colorado to have high rates of people living at home. But that's not the case. Colorado has  some of the lowest rates of people living at home. As a possible explanation, we might look to the fact that that Colorado has the 12th highest median income among the states. 

According to Census data, Colorado household median income was $60,940 in 2014, which put it above the national median household income of $53,657. (The highest state median income was found in Maryland at $76,165.)

Colorado may have relatively high student debt, but it's incomes may be  factor in making up for that. Moreover, in this case we're looking at average student debt and median incomes. The median incomes suggest that the incomes reflect a relatively typical income level.  It's why we often prefer the median over the average. But, the student debt level here is an average which means it could be skewed  up by a small number of people with very large debt levels. From this we might conclude it is indeed plausible that, at least in the case of Colorado, student is not the dominating factor in the growth of living at home. 

Related post: "A Better View of Poverty Rates: We Must Consider the Cost of Living.