After nearly five years of brutal economic decline, government retrenchment and a widespread loss of confidence in its future, California is showing the first signs of a rebound. There is evidence of job growth, economic stability, a resurgent housing market and rising spirits in a state that was among the worst hit by the recession.
California reported a 10.1 percent unemployment rate last month, down from 11.5 percent in October 2011 and the lowest since February 2009. In September, California had its biggest month-to-month drop in unemployment in the 36 years the state has collected statistics, from 10.6 percent to 10.2 percent, though the state still has the third-highest jobless rate in the nation.
The housing market, whose collapse in a storm of foreclosures helped worsen the economic decline, has snapped back in many, though not all, parts of the state. Houses are sitting on the market for a shorter time and selling at higher prices, and new home construction is rising. Home sales rose 25 percent in Southern California in October compared with a year earlier.
After years of spending cuts and annual state budget deficits larger than the entire budgets of some states, this month the independent California Legislative Analyst’s Office projected a deficit for next year of $1.9 billion — down from $25 billion at one point — and said California might post a $1 billion surplus in 2014, even accounting for the tendency of these projections to vary markedly from year to year.
A reason for the change, in addition to a series of deep budget cuts in recent years, was voter approval of Proposition 30, promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown to raise taxes temporarily to avoid up to $6 billion in education cuts.
About 30 percent of health spending in the United States in 2009 — about $750 billion — was wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administration costs, fraud and other problems, a government advisory panel said Thursday.
The report from the Institute of Medicine urges that changes be made to the United States’ health care system to reduce costs and improve care.
Institute of Medicine experts added, however, that inefficiency, a vast amount of data and other economic and quality issues obstruct efforts to improve health and threaten the nation’s economic stability and global competitiveness, the document warned.
Numerous inefficiencies caused needless suffering. One estimate indicates that about 75,000 deaths might have been prevented in 2005 if every state had delivered health care at the level of the best-performing state.
Gradual upgrades and changes by individual hospitals or health care providers are inadequate to solve the problems, the report committee said.
This time around, President Barack Obama’s message can sound decidedly down-to-earth.
Four years after winning the White House, Obama is dealing with a different economic and political reality as he seeks re-election. He’s focused less on a lofty vision for overcoming divisions and remaking Washington, and more on the most basic building blocks of middle-class economic security: a job, a house, a college education for the kids, health care, money for retirement.
What Obama describes as the American Dream can seem a spare, fundamental aspiration, tailored for a campaign that looks to be fought over who is best equipped to safeguard the interests of middle-class Americans.
The question is whether it will convince, even as Mitt Romney and the other GOP presidential hopefuls mount a counter-argument that the president has made the American Dream harder, not easier, to achieve. And Obama must overcome the grinding realities many voters confront daily, even with the economy showing signs of life: no jobs, mortgages they can’t pay, dwindling retirement funds and college savings.
The president is betting that if he shows voters he understands their yearning for economic stability and security, they’ll reward him over Republicans he’s casting as just watching out for the rich - even though he hasn’t succeeded in fully reviving the economy so far.
“If you’re willing to put in the work, the idea is that you should be able to raise a family and own a home; not go bankrupt because you got sick, because you’ve got some health insurance that helps you deal with those difficult times; that you can send your kids to college; that you can put some money away for retirement,” Obama said recently in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“That’s all most people want,” he said. “Folks don’t have unrealistic ambitions. They do believe that if they work hard they should be able to achieve that small measure of an American Dream.”
The goals can seem almost humdrum in comparison with some of the rhetoric from Obama’s 2008 White House campaign. But the message sounds made for the times, with the country emerging haltingly from recession, the income gap widening and unemployment stuck above 8 percent.
“He can’t run on change because he’s the incumbent, and he can’t paint too rosy a scenario because things aren’t that rosy,” said John Geer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. “He’s got to come up with a theme that appeals to voters, especially middle-class voters, alleviates their fears and gives them reason to believe the future will be better.”
The message also creates an implicit contrast with the portrait Democrats are trying to create of front-runner Romney as preoccupied with the concerns of the rich. But Romney is answering Obama’s message head-on, seeking a careful balance between sounding optimistic about the nation’s future and accusing Obama of destroying the American Dream.
“I’ve met Hispanic entrepreneurs who thought they had achieved the American Dream and are now seeing it disappear,” Romney said after his recent victory in Florida’s GOP primary. “We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great.”