Shortage of workers hampers U.S., economist says at Downey Economic Forum

DOWNEY -- Financial Partners Credit Union hosted their first Annual Economic Forum at the Downey Theatre last week on Thursday.

The forum drew a business-oriented crowd, bringing in business owners and representatives from within the community, as well as several city officials and staff.

The evening was moderated by Downey Patriot Editor and local realtor Eric Pierce.

“Tonight’s forum, I think, comes at a real opportune time for a couple of reasons,” said Pierce, opening the evening. “Reason number one is because, obviously, healthcare and the economy are always really important national issues that have local implications here in Downey

"Downey, in my opinion, has really become the medical hub of Southeast Los Angeles County. Within our city limits we have three really good hospitals…each of those hospitals is in the middle of an extensive renovation or they have immediate plans for extensive renovations and/or expansions, so you can see how the decisions that are made in Washington are really going to affect us here in Downey.”

Pierce went on, saying:

“I should also mention that a couple of weeks ago Downey was made a finalist for the most business-friendly city in Los Angeles County…just being nominated really speaks to Downey’s efforts to create a business climate that really enhances the local business climate for businesses small, medium or large.”

Guest speakers included Ramona Pratt, chief operating officer of PIH Downey, and Mayor Fernando Vasquez.  

"Traditional industries such as aerospace have continued to shrink, while at the same time the growth of the healthcare industry and mushrooming small businesses have contributed significantly to the shifting workforce," said Nader Moghaddam, CEO of Financial Partners.  "Financial Partners Credit Union is a microcosm, representing many of these transformational forces at play.  This is why we felt a forum of this type was needed, to provide context and color around these social and economic opportunities"

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The evening’s keynote speaker was Christopher Thornberg, the founding partner of Beacon Economics who is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading economists. Thornberg also serves as the Director of the UC Riverside School of Business Administration Center for Economic Forecasting and an adjunct professor at the school.

Thornberg spent around 45 minutes speaking on economic forecasting at a national, state, and local level, offering various insights and opinions on current trends and a myriad of data.
According to Thornburg, one of the biggest challenges that the nation’s economy faces is a slowdown in labor force growth, resulting in a shortage of workers.

“Half a percent per year; that’s all our adult population is growing right now,” said Thornberg. “And of course, not only do we not have a lot of new adults in the population; they’re getting old. Almost 40 percent now are 50 plus, so we have an older, slow growing labor force.
That’s the biggest problem the United States has right now; we don’t have enough workers.”

This point, Thornberg acknowledged, is in direct contrast to what many in Washington tend to say.

“The only thing you hear out of D.C. is ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’” said Thornberg. “Wrong conversation completely. The right conversation is ‘workers, workers, workers.’”

Thornberg later brought this same argument down to a local level, commenting that unemployment rates in California and LA County are at some of the lowest they’ve ever been, at 4.8 and 4.5 percent respectively.

“We have an incredibly tight labor market right now. Now of course, what do you do about tight labor markets? You have to bring more workers in,” said Thornberg. “But if you want more workers you have to have more homes.

"That’s our problem. We’ve gone and created an incredible problem in our state, in our county, which is that we don’t want to build homes…we have built a system that basically makes home building incredibly expensive…We need more housing desperately, and we’re not building it…this isn’t an affordable housing crisis, it’s a housing supply crisis.”

The event closed with a brief Q&A, with food provided afterward by Lock and Key Social Drinkery.