Two reports for a post-financial crisis economy

If the health of the economy were measured with a color-coded “threat” level like that used by Department of Homeland Security, I’d have to use a green magic marker.

Not because all of the signs are pointing to great growth, or consumers are spending like there’s no tomorrow.

No, what’s sending out an overall message of calm are reports like two released Monday dealing with the national and regional economies and their absence of crisis-speak.

The first is the quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The economic recovery may look less vibrant now than it did three months ago, but the 43 economists who participated also say that the chances of a dreaded “double-dip” recession are increasingly remote. They see only an 11 percent chance of negative growth, down from 16.8 percent three months ago.

However, robust growth is not on the horizon either. The forecasters predict slower real gross-domestic-product growth for 2010, 2011 and 2012 - sub-3.0 percent for each year. They now see 2.2 percent growth in real GDP for the fourth quarter of 2010, down from a 2.8 percent forecasted earlier.

About the best they can say about employment levels is that the weak recovery will create jobs, just not at a level high enough to bring the unemployment rate below 9.0 percent until 2012. Forecasters expect the economy to create 105,000 jobs per month, on average, during 2011.The second report, released by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, tries to make the case that strong community attachment is good for regional economies.

Called the “Soul of the Community,” the study involved 15-minute phone surveys of 15,200 people in 26 metro areas, including Philadelphia and the four counties that make up its Pennsylvania suburbs. Over the last three years, the foundation has been trying to pin down why people live in the area they do.

You might think, as I did, that the reason would be a person’s job or career. But consistently respondents cited quality of life attributes. The No. 1 reason was the presence of “social offerings,” or places for people to meet each other. How welcoming a community is to different people was generally No. 2. In Philadelphia, the quality of education was No. 3.

OK, so we’re definitely in the realm of “happiness research.” Does it make a difference to the growth of a regional economy if people are happy?

Those involved in producing the study say it certainly does, especially with the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic. That group was least attached to Philadelphia and very crucial to its future.

Katherine Loflin, the lead consultant, said the Gallup Organization, which conducted the survey, has found that 18- to 34-year-olds tend to choose a place to live and then find a job there, rather than the reverse.

I’ve had some recent college graduates tell me they did just that in picking Philadelphia as a place to live. But I’ve also heard from others in the region whose enthusiasm is waning in the absence of jobs in their field or at pay levels they want.

For me, the question is whether strong “community attachment” can overcome a painfully slow recovery in the job market that may last years.