LOS ANGELES —
The U.S. economy is slowly improving from the recession of 2008-2009. Industries like construction are doing well, but unemployment remains stubbornly high throughout the United States. California is a bright spot, growing at a rate above the national average, but as in other states, the recovery is uneven.
Realtor Rosalie Andersen adjusts the "for sale" sign in front of a white stucco home in a quiet neighborhood near Los Angeles. She hopes the house will sell for more than a million dollars, and says the real estate market is on an upswing.
“It's kind of puzzling. We talk in the office, and we're just wondering, where are these people getting all this cash from? But I think what a lot of people are doing is that they're finally realizing that your best investment for money is a home," said Andersen.
California grew last year at 3.5 percent, a full percentage point above the national average.
But the reality on the ground varies from place to place.
The ports, one of the drivers of the local economy, are busier, says economist Robert Kleinhenz of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
“We're still well below the pre-recession peak levels of port activity that we had seen in 2007," he said. "We've seen some slight gains with each passing year, but there still is quite a ways to go."
In downtown Los Angeles, the Chinese immigrant owner of a small business that sells T-shirts and slippers says he is doing well. Nearby, Henry Wong sells low-cost decorations and fabrics imported China. When sales are slow, he works with fewer employees.
“It's easier for me because the overhead is low. And I work by myself too. Sometimes, in the case that the economy is no good, we work more," said Wong.
Today, he's doing well. A half dozen employees are busy in his retail store, and more are at work in his warehouse.
High-tech companies are helping to drive the U.S. recovery, but even in Silicon Valley, California's high-tech center, the picture is mixed. Cisco, despite good sales, is cutting 4,000 jobs to adapt to a changing market.
The leisure and hospitality sector is hiring, and banking and professional services are also doing well. California's $44 billion farming industry helps feed the nation and is growing. The state's unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, down from over 12 percent three years ago. The jobless rate across the United States is 7.4 percent, and those numbers are also improving.
They are still not where they should be, says economist Robert Kleinhenz.
“The unemployment rate has been coming down. GDP has been growing. The problem is, they continue to tell us that the economy is growing at a slower pace than we would really like to see," he said.
Disappointing U.S. sales figures released this month by Wal-Mart, the nation's top retailer, show the economy still has a way way to go, even in states like California.