A new report released yesterday says Orange County's economy is destined for growth and inequality. More Jobs, Less Opportunity is a joint effort between the UC Irvine Community Labor Project and Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD). It had its big unveiling in the meeting room of Santa Ana Public Library. Academics, community organizers and politicians packed the house, a veritable who's-who of progressive OC.
"What is Orange County's economy like for regular people?" asked lead author Clara Turner of OCCORD. "What changes do we need to make?"
During the presentation, three key findings in the report were outlined: Income inequality is rapidly rising, more low-wage jobs are on the way and, as Bob Marley used to sing, the cost of livin' get so high! With a projected growth of OC's economy into the next decade, this troubling triplet can't be ignored.
The report goes on to note that the top 20 percent gobble half of of total income to themselves. On the flip side, the bottom 20 percent fight over the crumbs of 3.25 percent. Such disparities lead to economic segregation largely along color lines coming in the ol' North vs. South OC divide.
Recovered from recession, housing prices in OC are trending upward above those for California and the United States. But all is not well. With stagnating wages since 1990, unaffordable mortgages and rents mean that many, especially in areas of SanTanaheim, are prone to overcrowding.
Like the U.S. economy in general, OC's undergone deindustrialization. Manufacturing is fading away and taking its place are service sector, health care, educational and technocratic jobs. The report notes that by 2022, OC's economy will increase employment by 16 percent, but that many new jobs will be poor-paying ones, especially in the tourism sector where 97% pay less than $40,000 a year.
Not all is dim, the report argues. There are bright spots in the form of DACA/DAPA eligible immigrants that can bolster the workforce. OC's boasts a population of the likes that puts it among the top 5 in the nation. Good-paying construction jobs are also expected to boom at twice the rate of other forms of OC employment through 2022.
But there lies the unspoken twist not mentioned in the report. Many hard-hat gigs are set to build projects founded on corporate welfare. Take your pick from the the following hall of shame: the Anaheim GardenWalk hotels, The Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove or Disneyland theme park expansions. Once the construction jobs are done, they leave more low-wage service jobs with less opportunity in their wake.
After presenting the report's findings, a panel discussion followed, with Rafa Solorzano serving as moderator. Dylan Thompson, an activist previously involved with Occupy Santa Ana, Adrian Rocha, an Anaheim El Super grocery worker, Karina Parades, a college student involved with CLUE, and former state senator Joe Dunn fielded his questions.
When the discussion centered on wages, Dunn noted "politics" as the problem with any progressive policies being labeled as "job killers." Rocha offered his experience working at the boycotted grocery store. "If you don't have a livable wage, you can't live," he said. Rocha mentioned that his fellow workers collect cans as a side hustle to make ends meet and that management unfairly singles out any worker, like himself, involved with unionizing efforts.
Paredes, a UC Berkeley-bound student from Anaheim, spoke on behalf of the faith community sharing her own housing hardships. "Being on my own, I can't afford even a studio at $800 a month," she shared.
"Is it higher wages? Yes," Dunn said in answering his own question. "That's the challenge ahead of us. It's worth the fight."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2