The author lives in Santa Barbara.
The News-Press, in its recent front-page piece about Target, might have pointed out, while crowing loudly about the many jobs it will provide, the implications of jobs ranging up to 38 hours per week but never reaching 40.
This means that anyone working at Target, even those in almost-full-time jobs, will be denied the necessary benefits and legal protections afforded by law to “full-time” employees. These benefits include health and retirement plans, and overtime pay.
No mention, in the article, by the way, of part-time hourly wages.
Yes, I know: Most of these jobs are meant for students, as are so many in our service and tourist-oriented town. But, then, they also comprise what my Marxist friends would call an “easily exploitable” class. Such jobs mean more or less nothing in the context of the troubled economy of the county, where impoverished two-job families struggle to get by in the absence of reasonable work or wages.
And the notion that these jobs will be sought or filled only by students is patently absurd. Drop by Macy’s or Trader Joe’s and see who is actually doing the work. These jobs will also be sought and maybe taken by single mothers, working parents in two-income families, and others unable to find or hold full-time work.
Moreover, other employers, in many other communities, including Walmart and various fast-food providers, have been roundly criticized for similar cost-saving practices that clearly save the company money but deprive their nearly full-time workers of what they’d otherwise receive as 40-hour employees.
Exploitation. Say it again.
We pay a lot of attention in our community to housing costs, but very little to wages, which is the other related problem for those struggling to survive in Santa Barbara. Does anyone around here remember the old term “working class”? These are the many struggling folks, endlessly falling on hard times, hidden behind the homeless and indigent, that our local politicians and policy-makers ignore.
A recent United Way study determined that to live comfortably in Santa Barbara, two adults with one older child and one toddler requires an annual income of $90,000. A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California determined that the county of Santa Barbara has the third-highest poverty rate in California, with 26% of its adults and children living in poverty.
To exacerbate the problem, the county now seems to be half Hispanic, with two-thirds of the kids in school and two-thirds of the children born in hospitals also Hispanic — meaning massive demographic shifts in the county, with severe implications for the future, as the pool of low-paid workers increases, older people die off, and younger professionals leave town for more affordable locales.
We have, yes, a growing “working class” in dire need of protection and attention. But where will it come from? When will it come? Where are our apparently liberal Democrats — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, supporting supes, and council members — when it comes to fairness, wages and survival, or, for that matter, traditional Democratic Party values?
Why the timidity? Why the silence?
I just read that Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow makes $365,000 a year (including benefits, I assume) and that City Attorney Ariel Calonne makes $337,000, and far be it from me to say they don’t earn it, given the kind of morally questionable work (think here of the oversize vehicle ban or the city’s homeless policies) they do for the City Council. But salaries like these, put side by side with those of local workers, indicate a disparity in the county akin to many third-world countries, which the county, when closely and objectively examined, now sadly resembles.
When I take my car to the local shop, I pay $100 or more per hour for the work. The actual mechanic gets $20 per hour for his labor. It is much the same with local plumbers, painters, gardeners and tree trimmers. Most workers take it for granted these days that you need two jobs, one full-time, the other part-time, to survive in Santa Barbara.
The only other option, of course, like the one often chosen by local nurses, firefighters and police officers, is to live 30 to 50 miles outside of town and therefore survive on local wages that are not at all commensurate with local expenses.
I’ve a good friend, a handyman, who luckily owns his own business and lives with four aunts and uncles and their three children in a three-bedroom apartment that rents for $3,500 per month, increased every year. The aunts and uncles make minimum wage in restaurant kitchens. He makes more, of course, but also, I believe, pays his own workers $15 per hour.
Say it again: working class.
Isn’t somebody — including the News-Press — supposed to care about this stuff?
There used to be what I think was a punch line to an old joke I’ve forgotten: “Who’s minding the store?”
All together now, loudly, raising our voices, hoping someone will hear — some politician out there, some local planner, someone, anyone — who cares about democracy, economic justice and the county’s direction and future: Who’s minding the store?