So desperate is "the Valley" for good economic news that the Information Center published a story on the big circulation day of Sunday quoting the Coincident Economic Activity Index of the St. Louis Fed. It reminds me of the old contest we had when I was a young reporter in San Diego: How few words could you write to alienate a reader (the winner: Otay Water District). In any event, this measure allegedly "shows Arizona's economy probably hit bottom in December." Then it quotes U of A economist Marshall Vest, a very nice man who was utterly wrong about the state's economy in the run-up to the collapse, writing that the national recovery is "proceeding nicely." (!) The story adds, "But Arizona's recovery is lagging behind other parts of the country, though conditions are looking better." OK, then.
The mandarins of economic knowledge in Arizona, prodded by their masters in the Real Estate Industrial Complex, have been predicting a bottom for more than two years. Now every little blip or sideways shudder is even more urgently flung out with incense and sparklers as a sign of "the bottom," or better yet, "recovery." Most of these yearnings are realized in extremely limited snapshots of real-estate activity, a problem in itself. Even the St. Louis index only looks at four metrics, concerning employment, hours worked, wages and salaries. And for every pebble of "good news" comes a landslide of less "positive" stories. In Forbes' list of "America's Recovery Capitals," even Vegas is given a sense of potential; Phoenix is nowhere. With Business Insider's slide show of "12 Cities Where Home Sellers Are Being Forced to Cut Prices Like Mad," both Mesa and Phoenix make the rogue's gallery.
Boosterism and denial aside, the reality is that Phoenix's economy is not recovering in any meaningful sense of the word. The idle rich did very well in this recession — a historic anomaly — so to the extent that north Scottsdale and Paradise Valley are a B-List destination for these critters part of the year, there's your "good news." Otherwise, the situation is harsh. I do not wish this on Phoenix. I wish it were not so. I wish I were 25 and had a squash player's body. But unless Phoenicians face up to their reality, whether they wish it that way or not, a real recovery will be even longer in coming, narrow in its benefits and short-lived.