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This Labor Day, new challenges for workers

Most San Diegans weren't at work Monday. On Labor Day, KPBS Radio's Andrew Phelps talked to a local economist and labor leader about challenges confronting San Diego's changing workforce.

Economists say San Diego's midriff is shrinking. There are more low and high paying jobs, but fewer middle-income jobs.

Marney Cox, economist: I would say that San Diego's on the leading edge of that hourglass economy.

Marney Cox is chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments. He says there used to be more jobs in construction, but now tourism has taken the lead.

Cox: Typically they're on the lower end. The median wage in the visitor industry is probably right around $22,000 to $24,000 per year. And they're made up of a lot of part-time people.

Cox says the cooling housing market is dealing is a double whammy to the working and middle class. Construction jobs are harder to find. But home prices are not going down. New census data shows commutes are getting longer, a growing number of people who work here can't afford to live here.

Donald Cohen is president of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a pro-labor think tank in San Diego. He says workers are not as well off this Labor Day as in years past.

Cohen: We're in a very strange time in the American economy.

Cohen says the local economy is growing but wages are stagnating.

Cohen: Unemployment seems to be low. The stock market seems to be in good shape. Those conditions are alongside increasing insecurity and decreasing standard of livings for huge numbers of people who work for a living.

San Diego's unemployment rate is below state and national levels, at 4-point-6 percent. But even those who are working are having hard time making ends meet. About half of San Diego's poor are working. And the number of people in poverty has risen slightly.

For KPBS, I'm Andrew Phelps.

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