Have you ever used a bearing tree to figure out where you are located in the forest? I've seen these trees for years and had a vague idea of how they worked, but I didn't really understand how to use them until I sat down with my stepfather, a retired Forest Service engineer, and a map of the Plumas National Forest.
Figuring Out Where We Are
I am not going to write a blog post about bearing trees and map grids, at least not today. Rather, I'll the use the bearing tree as a metaphor for thinking about the economic health of the place where I live: Quincy, Plumas County, California, United States, North America, Earth. What is going on here with respect to our economy?
I am a big fan of The Upshot articles in the New York Times, because they often describe the country in terms of how different places compare, often accompanied by detailed maps showing data at a county level for the entire U.S. Income mobility, aging populations, rural vs. urban...there are countless ways to stack Plumas County up against the rest of the counties in the U.S. There are 3,135 counties in our country....and Plumas is usually somewhere in the middle of the pack, not doing great, not doing terribly.
Here is one article from 2014, which uses income, college education, unemployment, disability, life expectancy, and obesity as indicators for illustrating the hardest places to live in America. Plumas County is right in the middle, not great, not terrible. The New York Times and many other economic reporters use new tools available now to analyze trends at the county level from data collected by the U.S. census, and it's easy to see in reading about America's economy since the financial crisis unfolded in 2008 that not all areas of the U.S. have recovered at the same pace or to the same degree. Plumas County is a lot like other rural areas, with the median age of our population going up (we're getting grayer), fewer people participating in the workforce, higher unemployment, and lower incomes. This is especially stark in comparison with most of California, which has been enjoying much stronger economic activity in recent years.
How can we get our bearings, with all this overload of information? Here are the key sources and indicators that I'll use in the coming months to write about the economy in Plumas County and some of our Sierra Nevada "cousin counties."
Economic Profile: The most comprehensive and easiest to read collection of data is put together by the California Business Roundtable, and it’s updated quarterly.
The most helpful Long-Term Forecast is located within the CalTrans Economic Forecast, which is updated annually.
Who should we compare ourselves to? I've selected five other California counties that I'll use for comparison when writing about economic trends for Plumas County: