L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has been patching up some old wounds from the campaign recently. First, he sat down to lunch with Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. Then yesterday, he had breakfast with the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. Both had backed Wendy Greuel during the mayor's race.
Credit: Garcetti for Mayor TV ad
At the breakfast, Garcetti said there were no hard feelings. And there really shouldn't be. Although the Chamber attacked Garcetti in a web ad, it also commissioned a report that handed him one of his favorite talking points. He must have said it a thousand times: “My district is #1 in job growth in Los Angeles.”
The claim came from the Chamber's district-by-district economic report, which comes out every year. In the 2012 report, which was based on data from the 2011-12 fiscal year, Garcetti's district was indeed ranked first out of 15 in job growth.
However, the Chamber just issued the 2013 report on Wednesday, which covers Garcetti's final year as the councilman for the 13th district (which stretches from Hollywood to Echo Park). And this one is not as favorable for Garcetti.
His district ranked an underwhelming 11th in job growth, and it was dead last in average wage growth. During Garcetti's final year as a councilman, average wages in his district plummeted 11.2%.
As always when dealing with the dismal science, the reasons for this poor performance are hard to pin down. According to the report, the 13th district saw an increase in lower-paying retail and restaurant jobs in 2012, and a sharp drop in higher-paying information and technology jobs, which accounts for the wage decline. Total employment was flat, rising about 0.2%.
That tells you what happened, but not why. It's impossible, for instance, to say whether any of this can be connected to anything Garcetti did. The Chamber has been doing its district-by-district reports for four years now. Garcetti ranked 13th, 6th, 1st, and 11th in job growth. Did he do something right in that third year, and then abandon it in the fourth year? Probably not.
Take an even starker example. Councilman Ed Reyes' district was ranked dead last in job creation in the 2012 report. But in the 2013 report, he finished first. Did Reyes suddenly get it together in his final year in office? Not really. As the report notes, employment in the 1st district is “an unstable measure.”
The absolute numbers are much more stable, and seem therefore to be much more reliable. But they just tell you what you would intuitively guess — the top employment centers are downtown and the Westside, while South L.A. consistently ranks last in total jobs and average wages.
Although those numbers might be more dependable, they don't help you evaluate the performance of policy-makers. It would obviously be wrong, for instance, to conclude that Paul Koretz is an economic genius just because he happened to get elected in one of the richest districts in the city, just as it would be wrong to blame Herb Wesson for his district's low wages.
And that's why it's tempting to look at the year-to-year change in jobs and wages. Theoretically, those figures should tell you something about each councilman's jobs performance.
But with four years of data now, we can see that the rate of change is wildly inconsistent. No district has been in the top 8 districts for job growth in all four years. And no district has been in the bottom 9 districts for job growth in all four years. The numbers are about as consistent as they would be in a ping-pong ball lottery.
As a political matter, it's a moot point now. Eric Garcetti got his talking point, and it helped get him elected. But as a measure of whether he has a proven capacity for job creation, it doesn't seem to mean very much.
Neither the Chamber nor Garcetti's office returned calls or emails seeking comment. Will update if they do.