Forecast: Modest O.C. job growth in 2012

COSTA MESA — Orange County will add an estimated 21,000 new jobs next year, but housing sales and prices will remain flat, according to Chapman University's economic forecast for 2012.

The forecast delivered this week at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts estimates a 1.6% increase in payroll jobs countywide, but that estimate may turn out to be too conservative, said Esmael Adibi, director of the university's A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research.

"The good news is, I think, the pace of job creation is picking up steam," he said. "We should do as good as the state, if not a bit better."

California will see about 237,000 new jobs — a 1.7% increase in employment — according to the forecast.

Although job creation has been linked to increases in home values in the past, a large inventory of unsold homes will likely hold median single-family home sales prices to 0.2% growth in Orange County. Though unremarkable, Orange County's housing market should fare better than the 2.5% decline forecast for the state.

"Housing is not like the stock market," Adibi said. "There is not spontaneous change all at one time."

Though inventory is high, rigid lending standards are keeping many potential home buyers from qualifying for a home loan, he said.

However, there is a silver lining for those able to get into the market: Housing affordability is at an historic high.

"If you are a first-time home buyer and you have clean credit, now is the time to buy," Adibi said.

Personal income could rise the most since 2007, with a projected increase of 5% locally and statewide — real gains of about 2%, after factoring in inflation.

O.C. consumers are showing signs of life and should log a 5.4% increase in taxable spending in 2012. And 2011 is so far on pace to conclude the year with a 6% uptick in spending on taxable goods.

The only thing that could threaten the nation's slow recovery is Europe's debt problems, Chapman President Jim Doti said at the presentation.

He said he doesn't anticipate the U.S. falling back into a recession if Italy goes bankrupt, although that remains a real possibility.

Overall, the message was positive, if a bit lukewarm. Real gross domestic product is estimated to close this year with a 1.8% increase and 2.3% next year, according to the forecast.

"I wish I had an exciting forecast for you," Doti said, "but at least it's better than a double-dip or decrease next year."

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