SCAG Charts Inclusive Regional Recovery

Long-term economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic must be inclusive and equitable in order to be sustainable, according to leaders of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which hosted its 11th annual Southern California Economic Summit earlier this month.

The Summit, held virtually, featured forecasts from the region’s top economists, who say Southern California faces a slow, prolonged post-pandemic recovery, with lower-income segments of the population bearing the brunt.

“The challenge we face is to bring our whole Southern California region out of this economic crisis in a way that is safe, and healthy and inclusive,” said SCAG President Rex Richardson (see his comments in the video below), who is also a Long Beach city councilman. “The disparities across our region won’t fix themselves. That’s why its’ important that we activity engage in equity, and making investments that help close gaps.”

The Summit’s theme was “Charting an Inclusive Regional Recovery,” and SCAG has embraced inclusion as a key initiative.

The Summit theme echoed statewide and national economic forecasts that underscore deep divides in how Americans are experiencing the pandemic; lower-income people are experiencing deeper job losses and will have a longer recovery time. Those challenges are exacerbated by Southern California’s higher cost of living, particularly in the area of housing, SCAG officials said.

“COVID-19 has provided clarity on the weaknesses and inequities in our economic structure, and we must now embark on the changes needed to assure a resilient and inclusive recovery,” said SCAG Executive Director Kome Ajise. SCAG is the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, with six counties, 191 cities and more than 19 million residents.

Jobs Decrease, Housing Prices Increase

Overall, the SCAG region lost 1.78 million jobs, or 19.7%, between February and April, despite a continued increase in housing costs, with home prices alone jumping 2.6% from August 2020 to September 2020.

SCAG officials said the disproportionate loss of low-wage and entry-level jobs places additional pressure on affordability concerns, which were affecting the region before the pandemic took hold.

Every county in the region faces a slow, prolonged recovery.

Summit Covers Many Topics

At the outset of the Summit, U.S. Representative Karen Bass delivered an opening address that laid out an optimistic view about what is to come for Southern California with inclusion as a theme.

The panel session – moderated by Kate Gordon, Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research and featuring Costa Mesa City Manager, Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, Long Beach City Manager, Tom Modica and Cherian George of Fitch Ratings – led to a lively discussion about what cities need to be considering and why when it comes to planning for a resilient local economy and government.

The panel was followed-up by breakout discussions about improving access to good jobs, led by Karthick Ramakrishnan and Michael Bates of UC Riverside; access to affordable housing, led by Cecilia Estolano of Estolano Advisors; and access to transportation, led by Evelyn Blumenberg of UCLA.

In the summit’s keynote address, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman made a case for reimagining the intersection of government, private industry and other stakeholders to come together to create solutions.

He stressed the need for “complex adaptive coalitions” as changes in climate, new technology and globalization further complicate the problems we all face. Like U.S. Representative Bass, Mr. Friedman ended his address on a hopeful note and noted that inclusivity is necessary for our cities, region, state and country to thrive.

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