A report analyzing the state of working in Sonoma County forecasts an ongoing struggle for low-wage employees. In particular, the report shows a dominance of jobs in the service industry with low pay and few opportunities to move up.
According to the State of Working Sonoma 2018, “The future of work paints a grim picture for Sonoma County through 2024, not because there won’t be jobs, but because those jobs will be woefully inadequate for workers to provide for their families. In other words, job growth is expected to continue reproducing a labor market with a missing middle and fewer and fewer rungs on the ladder for true upward mobility and opportunities for prosperity.”
The report, written by researcher Jesús Guzmán of Healdsburg, predicts that over the next few years Sonoma County will see dramatic growth in the number of working poor households, which the report defines as making below $50,200 for a family of four (or 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold).
“One in five families in Sonoma County, and 40 percent of Latino families, are the working poor and receive wages and annual incomes well below self-sufficiency levels,” the report stated.
“We see a tale of two Sonomas,” said North Bay Jobs with Justice Co-chair Marty Bennett.
A workforce with a missing middle is a type of economy that is not conducive to a healthy community, Bennett said.
The State of Working Sonoma report states, “the top 10 percent of wage-earners in Sonoma County have seen a 26 percent increase in wages since the late 1970s… while the bottom 20 percent have seen their wages drop by double digits in real terms in the last four decades.”
The growth of the working poor population can have an impact on more than just the economy.
“Folks are working two to three jobs with no time for family or to help children with their education,” Bennett said.
The California Dream
According to a 2018 report from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, 43 percent of all Californian households are lower income. A large chunk of worker wages go to paying rent, which has increased by nearly 25 percent since 2000, while renters’ household incomes have increased only 9 percent.
The California Dept. of Housing report states that working full time at a minimum wage of $11 an hour (the current California statewide minimum wage), a renter or homeowner would be able to afford $520 per month in housing costs, and if they were paying more, they would be considered housing-cost burdened.
Working full time at a minimum wage of $15 an hour (the California statewide minimum wage as of 2022 as set by Senate Bill 3), a renter or homeowner would be able to afford $780 per month in housing costs.
The average rent for an apartment in Santa Rosa during the first quarter of 2017 was $1,623, according to data from a 2017 Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis.
According to the State of Working Sonoma 2018 report, the county is still bouncing back from the 2008 recession. Statistics show the median household income, once adjusted for inflation, was actually lower in 2016 than in 2005, which means the median Sonoma County household has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession.
“The recovery has left behind a majority of working people in the county, and the persistence of class and racial disparities has led to widespread economic insecurity,” Guzman said.
Statistics from 2016 show workers of color in Sonoma County accounted for about a third of all workers, yet workers of color constituted the majority of low-wage workers. In particular, one in three low-wage workers are men of color, the highest rate of any one group.
Is there hope?
Guzman said there is hope on the horizon for low-pay workers in the county.
“There’s a lot of possibilities of what can happen,” he said. “The current economy we have is a result of policies. If policy changes, the stress on the working poor can change.”
North Bay Jobs with Justice and other labor, faith and environmental organizations have collaborated to create the Alliance for a Just Recovery. The organization has developed a comprehensive policy agenda to address structural inequality and the affordable housing crisis.
Recommendations for policy change include a region-wide $15 minimum wage, rent control and just-cause eviction protections for tenants, as well as increasing the real estate transfer tax on the sale of high-end homes to fund affordable housing.
The group responsible for funding the report is North Bay Jobs For Justice. Guzman, who authored the report, is a principal of Los Arroyos Consulting, the board chair of the Graton Day Labor Center and a staff member of PolicyLink. His previous experience providing economic analysis includes working with the Marin Economic Forum and data analysis for the California Public Utilities Commission, Office of Ratepayer Advocates. He has a master’s in public policy from University of California, Berkeley.
The full report of State of Working Sonoma 2018 can be found at, http://www.northbayjobswithjustice.org/.