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Report: 40% of San Diegans Don't Make Enough to Live Here

Nearly 40 percent of San Diegans don’t earn enough money to live here, according to a new report. San Diego is the 11th most expensive city in the United States. The County’s unemployment rate is at

Nearly 40 percent of San Diegans don’t earn enough money to live here, according to a new report. San Diego is the 11th most expensive city in the United States. The County’s unemployment rate is at a 13-year high -- 6.4 per cent, and 100,000 people are looking for work.

KPBS reveals why this is happening in a new documentary, The Incredible Shrinking Middle-Class. Learn how much you need to earn to live here, who makes all the money, and where the good jobs and the not so good jobs are. KPBS reporter Joanne Faryon has the story. 

Almost every day, a million and a half people in San Diego County go to work. They deliver things . . they flip burgers…work in hospitals….


Doctor: Tomorrow we won’t have to do that because we’re going to put you to sleep down in the operating room.  . . . And office buildings.

A new report by the San Diego Workforce Partnership says many of them are over-qualified and under-paid. And if they’re feeling like they’re in a rut these days, it’s probably because they are.  The report says people in San Diego County have less of a chance to get ahead in the next five years than they did five years ago because middle class jobs are disappearing…

San Diego Resident: I have a masters degree…Great, you’re overqualified, which doesn’t mean you won’t get hired.

San Diego County’s unemployment rate is at a 13 year high -- 6.4 percent. That’s a half-point higher than the national average. 100,000 people are looking for work in the county. Here’s some of them at a local job fair:

Carol-Powers: May I give you my resume…they’re calling next week for interviews.


Carol-Powers:  My name is Jenny Carroll-Powers. I am 52 years old. And I had worked for Washington Mutual off and on for 20 years. And last November a group of us were laid off who worked in retail lending, in processing in Mission Valley there was a whole center laid off. Since then I’ve been looking for work and haven’t found anything since.

Jenny Carroll-Powers lost her job nearly one year ago. She is one of 6,000 Washington Mutual employees across the country who have lost their jobs -- most in the lending side of the business.

Carol-Powers:   I called my husband on the phone I said you’re not going to believe this but we’re being closed down, he said, “No.” I said, “Yeah really…we’re being closed down.” And in the beginning I thought, “Gosh, I’m going to have some time off, coming up to the holidays.  It’s going to be great.  When the holidays are over I’ll get very, very serious and look for work.” So he was of the same opinion I was and it was going to be okay and I’d fall back on something, but that’s not what happened.

Carol-Powers:   Scripps Health, I applied there maybe 25 times.

Carroll-Powers has filled out dozens of applications, gone to a handful of interviews and still no job offers. For a woman with two college degrees, who’s never been out of work her entire life, it’s demoralizing.

Carol-Powers:  During the week, I get down because I feel like, “What is wrong with me?  Why can’t I get a job?” I see these people walking around in Costco and different places, working there, why can’t I get a job here? In the health care industry, where people take your co-payment, why can’t I get a job there?  And I’ve applied for several of those positions. Either I get no response or the position has been filled.  On the weekends I’m fine because it’s the weekend and I’m use to my weekends off, but come Monday morning again it’s getting back on that horse and here we go again, plotting along with the sense that nothing is going to happen this week either and it’s depressing, it’s very depressing.

Carol-Powers: I’ll go to Costco and get some fresh bread.  Here I’ll fill that.

Carroll-Powers and her husband Mike Powers, were the classic picture of the upper middle class family.

Mike is 63 years old.  He spent most of his career as a public defender. Before Jenny lost her job, he was getting ready to retire and works part-time  - earning $54,000 a year.

Jenny made $58,000 a year at her job at the bank. Now, she collects $450 a week in unemployment benefits. Those benefits will end in November.  Their two grown children live with them and go to college.

Mike Powers: It is discouraging and I try to do my best not to act discouraged but I’m old and curmognely and I know she’s doing what she needs to do.

Plans for retirement are on hold. The family is already using their savings to pay bills. There is stress, but also signs this is a family pulling together.

And a 21-year marriage that began with a six-week courtship, has been Carroll-Powers greatest support.

Carol-Powers:   He gets me up every time I fall down or I make a mistake.  Very forgiving, very loving…Thank God.  Thank God he’s here, otherwise we would really be in trouble.  I would really be in trouble…

Mike Powers: He sounds like a great guy.

Carol-Powers: He is a great guy…look at you…look at you

The finance sector has been especially hard hit this year, as the mortgage meltdown continues to ooze foreclosures -- lenders tighten their wallets and their operations.  The industry was one of the few in the county that offered good paying jobs without a university degree.

An exhaustive study by the Workforce Partnership, a non-profit corporation that coordinates training with employment, found only 31 percent of jobs in the financial sector required a degree or higher, but paid one of the highest salaries in the region -- an average of more than $73,000.

But San Diego County has lost at least 2,000 of those jobs – a sector that five years ago had one of the greatest areas of growth. It’s another rung off the ladder to upward mobility -- gone.

Alan: It’s a tough market right now, vacancy rates have surged. I think the vacancy rate in commercial right now is 16 percent.

Signs of job loss are also found in empty store fronts.

Alan: There’s still growth in some areas like education and health care, for example. Which provide some very good middle income type of jobs, but due to the damage we’ve had in the real estate market, the jobs in construction, lending, the jobs in real estate, things like that have all suffered. We’re down more than 15,000 jobs since the peak in those areas. Those use to be the areas that people without a university education could earn a good income and move into the middle class.

But earning a good income or even a livable income in San Diego is becoming increasingly difficult.

The Workforce Partnership study says a single person needs to make $34,000 for the basics. Here’s the breakdown:

Thirty-seven percent of jobs in the county don’t pay enough to cover those costs. A family of five needs $110,000.

Again, housing costs the most…about $1800. Healthcare $1700, transportation $1600,  taxes, $1300, childcare, nearly $1100 every month, food almost $1000 and clothing and personal expenses $720.

Alan: In order to get by, what we’re seeing is that people are doubling up.  They’re getting roommates…children moving back with their parents.  So that’s one way to cope with the high cost of living in San Diego.

Overall, the Workforce Partnership study describes the San Diego employment landscape as the shape of an hourglass. The report says:

“Unfortunately, the region’s job opportunities follow the pattern of many other areas in today’s economy: some well-paying jobs at the top, a lot of low-paying jobs a the bottom, and a small and diminishing middle class.”

But the hourglass is not symmetrical. There are far more people at the bottom, then at the top.

Frano: I’m Doranne Frano.  I’m 54 years old.  I work in the pharmaceutical industry and I am in regulatory affairs, and I am now looking for work because the company had a fifty percent layoff and due to a failed clinical study and the project being canceled.

But even the people at the top are getting pushed down. Until a few weeks ago, Doranne Frano was working in biotech, earning $195,000 a year.  She has 23 years experience guiding biotech companies through the regulatory process…putting new drugs though clinical trials and making sure they meet FDA guidelines.

Today, Frano scans the internet, checks her Blackberry and makes phone calls from her bedroom, amid the construction of her new bathroom.

Frano: The worst thing is not being able to go into the office and interact with people.  The job I had, I loved my job.  I loved my boss… It was the first time in my career I had a boss who saw as a team, we had a good time, we got things accomplished, that’s gone  …I don’t miss the traffic, but I miss being with people.

Frano wasn’t living the high life on her six figure salary.  She lives modestly in her Oceanside home. Her splurges are do-it-yourself home improvement projects from the local hardware store.  Like so many, she bought when house prices were high. She estimates her house is worth $150,000 less than when she bought it.

Frano: I’ll be paying my bills out of my savings account. If my severance runs out and I don’t have another position, or at least the prospect for a position, I’ll probably be relocating because there isn’t a choice -- move to Jersey, pay my bills.

Saundra: Where are you at today in the process?

Frano: Today I’m a little pessimistic, although I do have an interview tomorrow, my second interview, but I’ve got that pre-interview state right now that the people that I have to interview are strangers to me and I’m not comfortable with having again to interview with people I just don’t know.

Pelletier: So we’re going to talk a lot about preparation.

Frano is hoping her career coach, Saundra Pelletier will get her back into the workforce before she has to choose between staying in San Diego or leaving.

Pelletier: Out of all the other people you’ve met that do what you do, do you meet more people who have more experience than you?

Frano: Probably not.

Pelletier: Confidence right? You got to fake it until you make it.

Pelletier specializes in helping people in the higher income strata find work. She says she discourages middle income earners from using her service – even though they’ve offered to pay her $300 an hour fee because she doesn’t want to take someone’s money if she can’t help them find a job.

Pelletier: Yes, I have the people in the middle contacting me, and it’s not that they don’t have focus and they’re not going at with complete vigor to find a job.  It’s just very, very difficult…because those jobs just don’t exist within their own expertise they already know.

Frano’s chances of getting a job may be greater statistically than Jenny Carroll-Powers because high-tech, high-skilled, high paying jobs in San Diego are experiencing some growth.

According to the Workforce Partnership study, 114,000 people worked in high skilled, high tech industries in 2004 --  that number is expected to grow modestly to nearly 127,000 in 2014.

These are the engineers, the scientists and computer scientists. This is also where all the money is. The average annual salary in this sector is $80,000 – The average salary for all workers in the region is just $43,000.

Film clip: When you’re searching for work, you’re fishing for a job . . .

Back in the good old days, making a living wasn’t nearly as complicated as it is today, and chances are your parents or grandparents probably only needed to get one job – their life’s work – and do that same job until retirement.

Many jobs in San Diego County back in the 30’s and 40’s were in aviation and maritime industries.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was moved to San Diego County. The move transformed the city. Back then, one in four jobs was in the military. And today, the military continues to contribute to about quarter of all jobs directly or indirectly.

But the largest number of job openings -- the place you’ll find work in this county is here, at the bottom…in restaurants, hotels and shops. Here are some of the statistics.

Between 2004 and 2014, occupations with the most job openings are:

Retail Salespeople, $27,500

Cashiers, $17,900

And waiters and waitresses, $14,980.

They all earn less than $10 an hour.

Registered nurses are among the highest in demand and the highest paid -- 8,470 job openings and they’re paid more than $32 an hour.

Dirda: My name is Christopher Dirda.  I’m 24 years old and I live in San Diego.  I’ve been unemployed for about two months now and I’m looking for job in either education, counseling, or IT, in the IT field.  Yeah, that’s where I’m at right now.

Chris Dirda didn’t think he would have to start at the bottom, not with a college degree.

But, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 30 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree.

Dirda: I walked down Garnet last week a couple times, just applying for jobs in stores and restaurants just to get something in the meantime until I got other things worked out. Of all the jobs I applied for, I only got two responses, and I felt over qualified for a lot of the jobs I applied for.  I got only two responses and I felt overly qualified for a lot of the jobs I applied for, so I would say the competition is pretty fierce if it’s that difficult to get a call back.

Dirda: W hat I’m doing is going on my Facebook and under San Diego, just asking some of the people I know, letting them know I’m looking for a job.

Dirda spends mornings on-line looking for work. He does have prospects. He spent the past year working as an aid to a special needs student, and he’s qualified to be a substitute teacher.

But after spending a year in the workforce, Dirda has decided his degree in Criminal Justice has not prepared him for the career he wants, the career he is now searching for.

Faryon: Do you look at your prospects, not coming out with a degree in science or math, you’re probably not going to make a lot of money?

Dirda: Yeah, yeah, and I didn’t really know that in college.  I was kind of under that assumption that a degree is a degree and, I knew, that the harder degrees the hard science math, business, …you’re going to make more but we were kind of under the assumption that with any degree you’re guaranteed to make a substantial amount of money, at least around $40,000. It’s not going to be too difficult to find a job.  But that’s definitely not the case.

Dirda has discovered what the experts will tell you. While workers in San Diego tend to be over qualified for their jobs, there is still a need for people with math and science degrees. …those are the skills that will get you jobs in high tech sectors – the areas that pay the most money

Dirda: I think that I could have been successful in any number of majors and I just kind of picked criminal justice. But I think if I tried any of the sciences, I could have been successful in some of them or business or finance and I think I probably should have done something like that because…  Even with those degrees, with all the jobs I’ve applied for, I could probably still get those jobs with another degree also, instead.  I didn’t necessarily need that degree that I have, but I could have certainly used one of those. I would have more opportunities in the job market.

Alan: I think it’s clear that education is going to be increasingly important in terms of being able to find a good job. It use to be that even if you had a high school education you could go get a job at a  factory, unionized and you could make a pretty good middle class wage. Now those jobs are disappearing, increasingly. In order to move in the middle- and upper-classes, you’re going to need high levels of education…jobs are going to be technology-oriented. And that requires a lot of education and strong background.

As good jobs get replaced by low paying jobs – and the cost of living, our food, our gas, our housing, keeps getting more expensive- the question really is, where does the middle class disappear to? And without the middle, how will you make the climb up?

Are you struggling?

Frano: Emotionally, a bit.  Because I’m looking forward, saying, “What if I don’t get another job?” … That puts terror in me because I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills.  And the longer you’re unemployed, the less desirable you are to a potential company, because they want to know why it took you so long. I want to work. Because I love what I do.

Carol-Powers: Smells so good. This is what lifts me up when I’m down in the dumps.

Carol-Powers: When I look at some positions it says $10 an hour then I read further and it says must have a college degree and those are entry level positions and at 20 years financial experience and my background.  I don’t want to take a step backwards but if  things don’t improve it looks like I’ll have to not just take one step but several steps backwards just to keep us afloat so that we don’t go down and under.

When Jenny Carroll-Powers and her husband planned their financial future, they did everything right. They didn’t buy on credit, they never robbed the equity from their home and they saved.  They never expected to be rich, they just wanted to make the steady climb up the middle class ladder.

Carol-Powers: I don’t think the rungs are there anymore what’s happened is I’m hanging onto both legs of the ladder and just sliding back down, there’s no rung there to stop my fall and it seems to get worse and worse. It’s so hard out there.

We’ve painted a pretty bleak picture for you, but we do want you to know there is hope out there.  And it comes from many sources. There are several free training programs in San Diego County for people who are unemployed and under-employed. Programs designed to train people in areas where there are better paying jobs. I spoke with Mark Cafferty, the CEO of San Diego Workplace Partnership, about where those jobs are. Here’s the interview:

As you heard earlier in our program, there are 100,000 people in the county looking for work. They are young graduates, middle-aged men and women unemployed for the first time, stay at home moms making their way back to the workforce, and people new to our region, hoping to make a new life in a new city. We met many of them at a job fair the other day. As we leave you, we want you to meet some of them too.

For Envision San Diego and KPBS, I’m Joanne Faryon. Thanks for watching.