California Spends Big on Housing, Little on Energy

California consumers rank among the nation's biggest spenders on housing and the lowest spenders on energy, according to new government data.

Per-capita spending on housing and utilities totaled $8,650 in 2012, which is sixth-highest in the country and well above the national average of $6,415. California was surpassed only by the District of Columbia at $11,985, Hawaii at $10,002, Connecticut at $9,524, Maryland at $9,000 and New Jersey at $8,861.

That's no surprise in a state with many of the most expensive housing markets. California occupied four of the top five slots in a National Association of Realtors survey of single-family home sale prices in the first three months of this year, led by San Jose and San Francisco, and followed by Anaheim-Santa Ana and San Diego.

On the flip side, a state known for its freeway culture ranked fourth-to-last in spending on gasoline and other energy goods in 2012. Per-capita spending was $1,039 in 2012, ahead of Florida at $1,020, New York at $919 and Hawaii at $882. The national average was $1,328.

The warm climate that draws many to California drives up housing prices but also keeps a lid other pocketbook items, said Jerry Nickelsburg, economics professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

"You spend more on housing but less on clothing, heating and even less on air conditioning," Nickelsburg said. "There are a few things that help balance the equation."

The figures emerged from an annual report the U.S. Commerce Department released Thursday. For the first time, it reveals consumer spending on a state-by-state basis from 1997 through 2012.

The numbers point to substantial shifts in the economy since the Great Recession ended. The recession, which began in December 2007, officially ended in June 2009.

Spending in California surged 13.4 percent from 2009 to 2012, slightly above the national increase of 13.3 percent. North Dakota posted the largest spending increase during that time -- 28 percent -- a boom that was largely due to a breakthrough drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing that has unlocked vast oil and gas reserves.

California consumers spent an average of $37,134 per person in 2012, slightly ahead of the rest of the nation. They spent less than average on health care and dining out.

Despite relatively high costs of gasoline, Californians have controlled energy spending partly by embracing hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles, Nickelsburg said.

Others have controlled costs by cutting down on commuting time, said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles consulting firm.

"While the traffic is pretty bad, one consequence is that people tend to live closer to work," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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