California Wage Divide Widens
Labor Day has been organized labor’s way to celebrate the American
worker since 1882, when it was first celebrated in New York City.
Today in San Joaquin County, people in a variety of jobs will celebrate
the holiday with the day off.
But in terms of wages, this Labor Day finds area dentists with the
The gap between high earners and the wages of the traditional working
class characterizes this year’s Labor Day, and it’s only getting wider,
according to two research findings from the University of California,
Berkeley, and the California Budget Project.
"Lower-paid jobs are growing; higher-paid jobs are shrinking,"
said Ken Jacobs of the Center for Labor Research and Education at
UC Berkeley. "Overall in terms of the wage picture, it’s not
a positive one."
In a separate report, The California Budget Project Executive Director
Jean Ross declared: "We’re seeing a growing divide between high-
and low-wage earners and a growing segment of California that is struggling
to make ends meet."
In San Joaquin County, state figures show 270,300 people were employed
in the labor force in July.
Here, dentists are the top-paid wage-earning occupation, with half
of all dentists making more than $81.36 per hour, according to the
state’s Employment Development Department’s figures for the first
quarter of 2005.
Internists ranked second, earning a mean wage of $75.42 per hour,
followed by chief executives at $68.77 per hour.
Deep into the seven-page list are the wages of a typical union worker.
Plumbers, pipefitters or steamfitters made a mean hourly wage of $20.77,
while carpenters earned $19.05, machinists $18.32 and cement masons
$15.34 per hour.
At the bottom of the list are dining room/cafeteria attendants and
bartenders at a mean hourly wage of $7.74, outearned even by dishwashers
and fast-food cooks at $7.78.
"Real wages have declined the last two years," said Jacobs,
who noted that jobs in lower-paying food-service and retail areas
have grown faster than in higher-paying professional and managerial
Jacobs said the prospects for a turnaround could depend on the state
Legislature passing Assembly Bill 48, which increases the minimum
wage from $6.75 to $7.25 in 2006 and to $7.75 by January 2007.
He also said improvement also hinges on the success of unions to grow
its membership rolls. Currently, 16 percent of the state’s workers
are covered by unions. Nationwide, the number has fallen to 12.2 percent.
"We’re energized and ready to fight back," said Andrea Colavita-Pinkham,
the political organizer for the Service Employees International Union
Local 790 in the San Joaquin Valley.
"America’s workers are deeply dissatisfied with the economy,"
Colavita-Pinkham said. "Stagnant incomes means an inability to
keep up with rising costs. It’s created real economic anxiety for
Everett Johnson, a field representative for the International Laborers
Union, Local 73, agreed.
"With the cost of living, and the cost of gas now, it just kills
us," Johnson said.