Tis the season to be jolly…” is a memorable line from a popular holiday song that brings a smile to my face every Christmas season, however I never assume the same holds true for everyone.
Across the inland region there are hundreds of working families struggling to make ends meet even though they work hard every day and this time of year, they also worry about how they are going to manage the added expenses of the holiday season.
The good news is that more of our neighbors and friends in the region are employed in 2018. Earlier this year, the region’s unemployment rate fell to 3.7—the lowest on record; and by October, although it had risen slightly to 4.1, it remained very low. As a result, it begs the question, “With so many people working, why is it so difficult for the region to climb out of poverty?”
In recent weeks, two reports have examined and issued reports on the inland area economy including the State of Work in the Inland Empire—November 2018 prepared by UCR’s Center for Social Innovation and the 2018 Detailed Status of the Inland Empire Economy prepared for SAG by area economist, Dr. John Husing.
Both reports highlighted the region’s continued economic growth that is projected to maintain for the near term but also noted opportunities for growth and real-world challenges particularly in relation to the area’s persistent poverty.
The local economy took a big hit during the Great Recession and since the economic recovery began in 2011, the area has added nearly 350,000 jobs, but it is the kinds of jobs created that may be contributing to the area’s relentless poverty.
The community celebrated when news broke in 2012 that Amazon was opening a warehouse in San Bernardino to employ about 1,000 employees. Today, it is the region’s largest employer with 13 warehouses and nearly 18,000 workers—but those jobs came at a cost to the community—millions of dollars in tax breaks.
Those tax dollars could be used to help uplift the community, instead the money lines the pockets of Amazon’s founder, chairman, and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos whose net worth is approaching 140 billion dollars.
As the region’s largest employer, there is little question Amazon is creating jobs, or that it pays marginally above the minimum wage and provides other benefits, or that it is contributing tax revenue to the area, but far too many of its employees continue to be classified among the working poor.
In addition, many Amazon jobs are either seasonal and/or part-time which means although the distribution centers provide jobs—most of these workers need more than part time or seasonal employment. In addition, the work is grueling and the compensation is just not enough to scratch out a living.
Amazon employees are non-union. As a result, they are disadvantaged by the inability to organize into a negotiating block for better wages and/or working conditions.
The inland area is progressing relative to attracting professional, management and scientific employment sectors, increasing the percent of local residents with college degrees, and working to gradually close the educational achievement gap—these are all amazing strategies, but the transition is long and the impacts will be felt overtime.
There are also those like me and others who believe that with Amazon controlling the lion’s share of jobs in the region, there is also a role for unions to play in helping to strengthen the region’s economy.
I began this column reminiscing about an old Christmas carol and focusing on the line, “Tis the season to be jolly.” I’m sure Bezos with his billions of dollars will most probably have a very jolly holiday season, but thousands of Amazon employees in the inland region and around the nation who work hard adding to his net worth each day, will struggle to meet the basic needs for themselves and their families this holiday season.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.