San Diego’s income inequality reflects the national average.
  • San Diego’s income inequality reflects the national average.
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

If the massive union workers’ protests radiate from Wisconsin and Ohio across the country, you can almost bet there is one metro area that won’t participate in large numbers: San Diego County.

Across the nation, realistically, uprisings may be limited to very heavily unionized areas. Since fewer than 12 percent of American workers belong to unions (down from 36 percent 65 years ago), Americans aren’t likely to storm the Bastille over organized-labor issues, particularly since government workers’ unions dominate the labor movement today and many taxpayers are resentful of the fat pensions and early retirements that municipal safety workers, in particular, enjoy.

While polls indicate that more than 60 percent of Americans don’t approve of the type of restrictions proposed in Wisconsin for public workers, it’s questionable that many people lacking an overriding self-interest will be aroused enough to take to the streets.

California is more unionized than the nation, but sympathy for labor unions is not likely to reach the boiling point in San Diego. According to the University of California Los Angeles Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, San Diego is one of the least-unionized metro areas in the state. Last year, only 13.3 percent of San Diego workers belonged to unions. The figure was 16.5 percent in Los Angeles, 17 percent in San Francisco, and 17.6 percent statewide.

Private-sector unionization was a mere 5.3 percent in San Diego, compared with 9.7 percent in the state, 7 percent in the nation, 10 percent in San Francisco, and 9.3 percent in Los Angeles. Public-sector unionization here was 45 percent, but the comparable state number was 56.1 percent, while in bureaucrat-bloated Sacramento, not surprisingly, it was 58.8 percent. San Francisco was close at 57.4 percent.

For the movement to explode across the country, protesters’ focus will have to broaden. It will take more cosmic grievances to bring up the bile — say, the repugnant gap between the superrich and the not-so-rich. Income and wealth disparities are a major factor setting Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Iran aflame. (Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak may personally control as much as $70 billion in wealth — about twice as much as the right-wing, Kansas-based Koch brothers, who are shoveling money and advice to the Wisconsin governor.)

Americans should feel bitter resentment that average people’s wages, adjusted for inflation, have gone nowhere for 20 years, while the richest 1 percent have seen their incomes grow 33 percent over the period. Folks should gnash their teeth that the richest 1 percent rake in 24 percent of total income and the wealthiest 1 percent have more net worth than the bottom 90 percent. The top 15 hedge-fund managers are bringing home an average of $1 billion a year and paying only 17 percent taxes.

Someday, such figures will have people ready to revolt. But not yet — and almost certainly not in San Diego, which has an ugly antiunion and anti–free speech history. In 1912, disaffected workers, including members of the leftist Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) would gather in the Stingaree district, filled with whorehouses and opium dens, to hear soapbox orations about workers’ rights and social inequality. The city council passed ordinances severely restricting free speech. Police threw protesters in a vermin-infested jail. San Diego vigilantes, spurred on by hate-filled newspapers, physically brutalized the workers protesting uncivilized conditions.

San Diego gained the reputation as the city least tolerant of free speech — and that legacy remains. Mainstream media and the establishment still disparage anyone challenging the conventional wisdom.

Income inequality can foment social defiance, but San Diego is more balanced than one might suspect. The Census Bureau has a Gini Index, which measures income inequality on a scale of 0 to 100. Metro areas with scores closer to zero have more equality; those closer to 100 have more inequality. In 2009, San Diego was about in the middle of major metro areas. The most unequal metro area, 54th on the list, was New York City, home of Wall Street. The most equal, number 1, was Salt Lake City. San Diego came in 25th — not bad at all, and right at the U.S. average. (Traditionally, the most unequal — too small to be included in the largest 54 metro areas — has been Southern Connecticut, including superupscale Greenwich, Darien, and New Canaan. That’s where so many of those hedge funds are based, in the aptly named Gold Coast.)

It’s true that San Diego County median rents — at $1224 monthly — are the fourth highest in the nation, according to the Census, and even though housing values have plunged 36.6 percent from their late 2005 high, the median housing price is $387,600, according to the National Association of Realtors. But San Francisco tops that at $588,900, and San Jose is higher still at $628,700. What do you want to do: go to Youngstown, Ohio, where the median price is $60,400? (Mobsters will smack down any labor protests in Youngstown.)

San Diego’s cost-of-living index, as compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research, is 32.5 percent higher than the nation’s — about the same as Boston’s and Philadelphia’s. But San Diego housing costs are 93.3 percent higher than the national norm; utilities costs are slightly lower than in other cities, and costs of groceries, transportation, and health care are only 7 to 15 percent higher than in other metro areas.

Housing affordability is still a problem, despite the crash. Only 62 percent of county households can afford to purchase an entry-level home, according to the California Association of Realtors. That compares with 69 percent in California and 80 percent in the United States.

It has always been said that San Diegans are hit with a sunshine tax. They live on psychic income. That’s because, historically, incomes have been only a bit above average while the cost of living has been well above the national norm. But San Diegans’ incomes have been creeping up. Last year, per capita personal income in the county was $45,630, or 27th highest among 366 metro areas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Southern Connecticut was far ahead at $73,720, and San Francisco was second at $59,696. But the Bay Area’s cost of living is 62 percent above the nation’s.

You could live in Yuma ($25,496) or El Centro ($28,154) and pay a different kind of sunshine tax — too much sunshine and too little income.

Culturally and economically, San Diego is definitely not likely to join lustily in the union protest movement, even if the focus becomes income inequality. The county doesn’t breed dissent, and the overlords don’t tolerate it. ■

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader

Comments

Visduh March 16, 2011 @ 1:31 p.m.

There is a general San Diego Sunshine attitude which is due to being grateful that one has a job, any job, in San Diego. There are literally millions of people who would love to come here to live, and they depress pay levels in the same way that H-1B visas keep pay down. Most of us are, or were, willing to give up some pay in exchange for the climate and the ambiance. Unfortunately, the life style here has changed over the years. It is no longer a mellow, laid back city as it was, say, 30 years ago. There is a crime problem that steadily worsens in certain parts of the city and county. We pay big taxes and get crumbling infrastructure. But things will have to get much worse before the typical resident gets up in arms, or gets skeptical enough to stop voting for these establishment figures who run city and county. So, you are right in stating that union protests will not come here. They would have to buck the same trends that affect all San Diegans.

0

speedgraphic March 18, 2011 @ 11:20 a.m.

You couldn't be more right. I recently visited Denver and I was blown away how a smaller city could be so much more vibrant and well-maintained. The wages are comparable, and the housing is SO much less expensive. Denver doesn't have the beach, but it's hardly Des Moines.

0

Don Bauder March 18, 2011 @ 12:27 p.m.

Yes, the Denver economy is doing quite well -- comparatively, anyway. The downtown is vibrant. Denver has actually become one of America's swinging cities for young singles, and you can see that downtown. There is one thing in Colorado: it may get cold, but the sun shines. And it's beautiful (except on the plains, which are no different than Kansas.) Best, Don Bauder

0

Don Bauder March 16, 2011 @ 2:30 p.m.

Yes, San Diegans still pay a sunshine tax, although, as the column says, incomes (relatively, anyway) are improving. The cost of living remains high, however. I think you are right that the "laid back" environment of 30 years ago has evanesced. Traffic is worse, the infrastructure is in terrible shape, public corruption is more cancerous. Best, Don Bauder

0

stingray March 16, 2011 @ 6:48 p.m.

Your point is well taken reguarding the extra layer of insulation our wonderful weather provides, but I wonder how quickly it would take for social unrest to ferment if the Tea Party movement is sucessful in their quest to downsize government and strip away the social safety nets our governments now provide.

0

Don Bauder March 16, 2011 @ 8:38 p.m.

There would be far more unrest than Tea Partiers now expect, but I still think there would be less in San Diego than elsewhere. Best, Don Bauder

0

SurfPuppy619 March 16, 2011 @ 10:01 p.m.

Americans should feel bitter resentment that average people’s wages, adjusted for inflation, have gone nowhere for 20 years, while the richest 1 percent have seen their incomes grow 33 percent over the period.

Their income MUST have grown far more than 33%, more like 333%, or even 3,333%.

0

Don Bauder March 17, 2011 @ 7:46 a.m.

Remember, they started from a very high base. Best, Don Bauder

0

speedgraphic March 18, 2011 @ 11:18 a.m.

The "very high base" of the early 20th century, when many American workers lived in abject poverty or in Triangle Shirtwaist-style conditions? The late 1800s and the "very high base" of income provided by sharecropping?

The higher base that Americans received was due to two things: WWII and unions. Americans didn't earn much before the mid 20th century and they are steadily earning less. Perhaps you would benefit from some corrective lenses for your historical myopia.

0

Don Bauder March 18, 2011 @ 11:54 a.m.

In using the words "very high base," I was specifically referring to income growth of the rich in the last 20 years, as I answered SurfPuppy's sarcastic and non-serious remark that the rich's incomes may have gone up 333% or 3,333% in two decades. Actually, from a long range perspective, I don't disagree that World War II and unions propelled the incomes of the lower 70%. There were other factors, of course, but those two were important. And, as I have been writing for some time, the gains by working people have been erased by various initiatives, including offshoring and anti-labor legislation, since the 1980s. Best, Don Bauder

0

nokomisjeff March 20, 2011 @ 9:46 a.m.

Interesting ideas about the unions. Whenever I'm in San Diego, I check out the grocery stores, and compare prices. The prices are about 30% higher than my location, but then again a unionized grocery clerk makes 50% more than the non-union employee......even if employed by the same company. The company passes along the high labor costs to the customer and the higher wages are an illusion, a wash.

0

Don Bauder March 20, 2011 @ 1:36 p.m.

The big grocery chains such as Safeway are losing to Wal-Mart in great part because Safeway employees are paid well. Best, Don Bauder

0

SurfPuppy619 March 20, 2011 @ 2:37 p.m.

The big grocery chains such as Safeway are losing to Wal-Mart in great part because Safeway employees are paid well

As a former union checker at Safeway, I can verify 100% that Wal-Mart and others-like Costco/Price Club, Smart and Final, Sam's Club and others have cut into Safeway's market share bigtime.

Safetway wages have be stagnent for at least 15 years, and with inflation are probably down 50% from 25, 30 years ago when I was there.

Baggers were paid at least 50% above the minimum wage, today they're minimum wage. Checkers started at $7.18 an hour when I was there in 84, and tapped out at $12.50. I think the top wage today, 27 years later, is the $15-$18 range, which like I said is far less after inflation adjusted

0

Don Bauder March 20, 2011 @ 9:43 p.m.

Safeway is not as generous paying employees as it once was, but is still paying more than Wal-Mart. Best, Don Bauder

0

SurfPuppy619 March 20, 2011 @ 11:14 p.m.

Maybe, but it is not that big of a spread.

Safeway has had MAJOR labor troubles the last decade, and this is why I have no problem with labor unions and collective bargaining in the private sector-there actually is BARGAINING that goes on, with labor strikes and lock outs and both sides hammering out a deal.

0

speedgraphic March 18, 2011 @ 11:16 a.m.

Of course, this article also ignores the fact that the most oppressed workers in San Diego are often those who don't speak English and aren't familiar with American labor traditions. If both English- and Spanish-speaking low-wage workers banded together, something could happen...

Unfortunately San Diego is a pretty racist place. Read the comments on any local news site and you'll see proof. It's difficult to reason with people who think that the reason their house was foreclosed upon is because a Mexican snuck into California for a shitty job.

On a side note, this article, while commendably using the Gini coefficient to explain income inequality, uses the misleading statistic of "per capita income" which has little to no purpose in a discussion of income equality (as a billion dollar raise to a single person in the county would be reflected as a massive increase in per capita income). Instead, we should look at median personal and median household income for a more accurate look at the state of inequality in San Diego.

0

Don Bauder March 18, 2011 @ 12:01 p.m.

You are correct that Mexican laborers are excluded from many things, including the unemployment statistics. And I don't disagree that San Diego is a pretty racist place. As to per capita income: I normally use median household income, as past columns show, but this time I switched to per capita income because I was comparing it with cost of living. But I could have used median household income. Best, Don Bauder

0

SurfPuppy619 March 20, 2011 @ 2:44 p.m.

Of course, this article also ignores the fact that the most oppressed workers in San Diego are often those who don't speak English and aren't familiar with American labor traditions. If both English- and Spanish-speaking low-wage workers banded together, something could happen...

==== Are you for real! EVERYONE gets paid LESS in San Diego, it is the "sunshine tax". . . Unfortunately San Diego is a pretty racist place. Read the comments on any local news site and you'll see proof. ====== Yes, some stoopid posts by a handful of stoopid people means everyone in San Diego is "racist". And that never happens anywhere but San Diego. Not NY, not LA, not Chi-town, not DC. Thank you for that whopper lie;

"An informal fallacy is an argument whose stated premises fail to support their proposed conclusion. The deviation in an informal fallacy often stems from a flaw in the path of reasoning that links the premises to the conclusion. In contrast to a formal fallacy, the error has to do with issues of ratiocination manifest in language used to state the propositions; the range of elements that can be symbolized by language is broader than that which the symbolism of formal logic can represent.

. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal... . . . Instead, we should look at median personal and median household income for a more accurate look at the state of inequality in San Diego. ============ Well, you finally got one right!

0

Don Bauder March 20, 2011 @ 9:46 p.m.

I don't believe anybody said San Diego is the only racist place. Best, Don Bauder

0

dmlocal March 25, 2011 @ 2:54 p.m.

I guess that between Don and the other poster about racism that the logical conclusion would be that the racists referred to are the Tea Party people. I just hope that when the general public sees the damage that the unions have done to the economies of Wisconsin as well as many other cities throughout the country, the public will vote out those politicians bought by the unions. Unions were a useful tool back in the day, up until they became under the control of people like Trumka. Don, when you were with the SD union tribune, I depended on you to be the fiscal cop for this town, and TAXPAYERS are paying the workers who pay into these union dues, which fund Democratic interests. If it's wrong for the Koch brothers, a PRIVATE corp, to donate to Republican causes, then it's REALLY wrong when public sector unions do it. Look out for the Taxpayers, that's you and me. The Unions have become a scam on the Taxpayers, especially in the public sector. This goes for Police and Firemen as well.

0

SurfPuppy619 March 25, 2011 @ 3:26 p.m.

Look out for the Taxpayers, that's you and me. The Unions have become a scam on the Taxpayers, especially in the public sector. This goes for Police and Firemen as well.

Private sector unions ar enot a scam, they compete in an open and free market where there is real and legit collective bargaining going on, and HARD deals are driven.

But the public sector-especially public safety- those are down right flat out union scams.

0

Don Bauder March 25, 2011 @ 4:41 p.m.

Private sector unions have very little power currently. The days when steelworkers, auto workers, rubber workers had muscle in the U.S. economy are gone. Best, Don Bauder

0

Don Bauder March 25, 2011 @ 4:38 p.m.

There is no question that unions representing public employees have scammed taxpayers in many places, including San Diego. The pay, pensions, and ridiculously early retirements of safety employees are one of the major factors in San Diego's insolvency. I have been saying that for years. Similarly, City employees who actually work for the real estate industry are scamming taxpayers. But school teachers, many civil engineers, environmental inspectors and the like are not rewarded for what they do.

As far as your overall message goes, however, I believe you are off base. Labor unions, particularly in the private sector, simply do not have the power they once had. They represent only 12% of workers --one-third of their puissance 65 years ago. The biggest unions are those representing public workers, and they admittedly can be noxious. But the BIG money that is corrupting politics comes from corporations and Wall Street. Fifty years ago, I agreed with your view: that excessive union influence was a deleterious force in the U.S. economy. But in the last 15 years I have realized it is corporate excesses that are the enemy. Best, Don Bauder

0

dmlocal March 25, 2011 @ 5:44 p.m.

But in the last 15 years I have realized it is corporate excesses that are the enemy.

 I'm referring only to the unions that I'm watching in Wisconsin--the public sector unions. It's seems that it's an entitlement mentality across the board in this country that's been adding to an unsustainable economy. As far as "big money corrupting politics", how about Imelt (GE) getting a gigantic tax break,,,a huge Obama contributor? The corruption (the unions AND corporations) runs both ways, and for both parties. Government should be in the business of taking care of administering, and get paid the same that they would as a private sector EMPLOYEE--Not CEO's. That, plus extreme campaign finance reform (all parties get the same air time and same campaign money-none of which would come from unions OR corporations, but from taxpayers and be minimal) will get you and I a cup of coffee, I reckon.
0

Don Bauder March 26, 2011 @ 8:22 a.m.

You are correct: the big banks and corporations have both political parties in their pockets. No doubt about that. Best, Don Bauder

0

Don Bauder March 29, 2011 @ 1:29 p.m.

Wisconsin allows public workers to retire at age 57 with 30 years of service. Police and fire personnel can retire at 53 with 25 years of service. Many other states are the same. There is no question that these terms are too lenient. However, that doesn't mean the state should take bargaining rights from public employees. Again I say: Wisconsin and other states are trying, they say, to reform these abuses. But at the same time, they are giving tax breaks to corporations and the richest in society. The biggest abuses in our country are obscene high-level corporate salaries, corporate tax cheating, Wall Street swindling, stashing of money offshore, ad nauseam. That's where the big reform focus must be. Best, Don Bauder

0

SurfPuppy619 March 29, 2011 @ 2:55 p.m.

However, that doesn't mean the state should take bargaining rights from public employees

I think taking collective bargaining rights away is appropriate in the PUBLCI sector only-we can see the problems with it in the public sector, there is no true "bargaining" when NO side is representing taxpayers/workign class people, doing hard "bargaining" on their behalf.

These retroactive pension increases, the Cadillac healthcare, the vesting in as little as 5 short years entitling virtually all public employees to a pension and free medical for life-those things are not out there in the real world for a reason-they would NEVER be allowed in true collective bargaining because the entity allowing it would go bust.

I would be open to other alternatives if it leveled the playing field, but I don't see how the taxpayers are going to be properly represented agaisnt a public sector monopoly with "collective bargaining" when there is no true bargaining.

0

Don Bauder March 29, 2011 @ 10:30 p.m.

I don't disagree with you on problems caused by public sector unions. Many, particularly safety workers, have excessive salaries and pensions. Others can retire too early. But I think you are missing the big point on leveling the playing field. One of the most cancerous afflictions of this economy is the wealth and income inequality. Yet we continue to give tax breaks to the upper 1% to 10% and to corporations. Our entire monetary policy is based on running up the stock market, when it should be based on stimulating the economy enough to provide jobs. Public unions are a problem, but not one of the major ones. Best, Don Bauder

0

SurfPuppy619 March 30, 2011 @ 4:17 p.m.

Ia agree on everything you said. Thye income gap I am sick of, it is a rigged system. The tax breaks, again, it is due ti excessive power of the corporations worth tens of billions and buying off the Congress. There are 480 lobbyists for every ONE Congressman in DC, thta is the problem. Money buying influence, which in reality is money buying corruption.

The Fed, the monetary policy, the marco econimic policy (H-1B Visa, outsourcing) and a million other things need fixing. But collective bargaining is just another part of the overall Big Problem-all need fixing.

My new talking point;

"Big Public Sector Unions and Wall Street Investment Banks are the Casinos of Blue Collar and White Collar Organized American Crime Families of the 21st Century. With the aid of the Congress they Extort and Gamble with the Jobs/Pension Funds/Future/Hope of every real middle class and poor worker and citizen in America."

0

Don Bauder March 30, 2011 @ 8:21 p.m.

There is much wisdom in your new talking point but it is too long to fit on a bumper sticker. Best, Don Bauder

0

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close