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Underemployment Holding Back San Diego Economy

Evening Edition

Above: San Diego has regained about half of the 100,000 jobs lost during the financial collapse. The region's jobless rate is hovering just below 10 percent, but that doesn't capture the entire picture. KPBS Business Reporter Erik Anderson says a recent Gallup Poll survey finds California has one of the highest under-employment rates in the country.

Aired 3/26/12 on KPBS News.

San Diego has regained about half of the tens of thousands of jobs lost during the financial collapse. The region's jobless rate hovers just below 10 percent, but a recent Gallup Poll survey found California has one of the highest under-employment rates in the country.

Certified steel workers gather most mornings at this suburban San Diego Union Hall looking for work.

"Alright guys, I have Schuff Steel looking for three guys to go to camp Pendleton," barked out dispatcher Cesar Cabrerra. "This is for tomorrow. 7 a.m. I need two connectors and one ground man."

The ironworkers shuffle around, each looking hopeful. One rugged looking man has the low number on the list. Tatooed Mark Jacobs landed a job. It is timely work because he was was just laid off from another local construction project. This job is temporary, and probably not full-time, but Jacobs is pleased. It takes a little of the pressure off.

Underemployment Holding Back San Diego Economy
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"It's hard. It's a struggle," said Jacobs. "I'm married and I have three children. My wife works, but she doesn't make a lot of money. So we've got to budget our money. Every day you come up here to the hall. Sign the list. Let your face be seen and fight guys, not literally, figuratively, to get a job."

Jacobs signed some paper work, got directions to the job site and had the rest of the day off. Tomorrow he'll climb into his truck before sunrise to make it the job site by 7 a.m.

Ironworkers local 229 has about 1,200 members. Nearly 100 are actively seeking work, but that can change. The recent financial collapse has put a lot of pressure on these workers. Business manager Jose Naranjo says that can easily swell to several hundred. He says the recent financial collapse was not kind.

"They're looking for that long duration job that's going to at least get 40 hours a week. The last two years has been pretty devastating here. They work on average 20 to 24 hours a week," said Jose Naranjo, Ironworkers Local 229 business manager.

Today's working environment is pretty far removed from the heady days of a downtown building boom. Just a few years ago, the construction of Petco Park and dozens of downtown condos, kept the steel workers busy.

"Petco Park obviously was a big stadium that we built in downtown and it put a lot of our members to work. And we did all the steel erection. All the trellises, all the trusses on the project," said Naranjo.

Hints of other major civic projects offer promise during a recovery that economists say is slow but steady. But even with that, a recent Gallup poll found California had an under-employment rate over 20 percent. That puts the golden state among the top five states with the highest underemployment rate.

Phil Blair, CEO, Manpower San Diego
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Above: Phil Blair, CEO, Manpower San Diego

"Underemployed is a lot better than unemployed," said Phil Blair, CEO, Manpower Inc, San Diego. "And there are a lot of people that don't even have part time jobs, that would love to have that."

Blair said not everyone wants to work full-time, but the financial collapse forced many people to take part time jobs, just to keep money coming in. Blair is not particularly encouraged by sluggish recovery.

"Usually if you look at history and economies, the faster you go into a recession, the faster we come out," said Blair. "And this one we went into very fast. And we're coming out of very slow. We're seeing significant, systemic change in the way employment is being handled."

Companies made cuts to save cash during the downturn, got efficient and don't plan to hire those people back. It also doesn't help that some of the region's industries rely on a part time workforce.

"Here in San Diego I think it's also a little bit of a problem and it's accentuated, primarily because there's such a large visitor industry here," said Marney Cox, chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments. "That employs a lot of people part time. And more so than other places across the U.S. that's simply the nature of the industry."

People put too much focus on the jobless rate, said Cox, who thinks adding the unemployed and underemployed paints a more accurate picture.

"The unemployment rate, that we're having, by itself…not the underemployment, but the unemployment…is probably not a good reflection of what's going on in the economy, today. I think it's much worse then that," said Cox.

Nearly a third of the region's workers either don't have a job or are working part time when they want full time work, and Cox said he does expect the San Diego labor market to improve quickly.

Video by Katie Euphrat

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