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Hustling for a living: Central Coast residents often work multiple jobs to stay afloat

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At 33 years old, Yence Pederson is working to get his contracting license. He's currently the owner and operator of a home inspection business, Y.C. Home Inspections, and once he has the certification in his grasp he'll be able to offer his customers both services. The full package deal, he said.

"I can then just focus on home inspections and construction. One company and one stream of income," Pederson said. "My other hope is once I get my license, I can then let some of the other stuff fall by the wayside."

ILLUSTRATION BY ALEX ZUNIGA
  • Illustration By Alex Zuniga

The stuff that Pederson is talking about are the multiple jobs that he works in order to support himself, his three daughters, and wife. He's not the sole provider for the family as his wife is an online reseller (she purchases brand-named clothing at a discounted price and resells it), but the majority of her time is spent being a mom and a full-time student at Cuesta College. They're a team.

"The thing was, yeah, she could have gotten a job making $15 an hour and we could be OK, or we could suck it up for a few years. I'd work more, she could go to school full time and when she's done, get a really good job, and then combined we can afford to buy a house," he said.

That's his other goal: to own a home for his five-member family and two dogs. For four years, Pederson and his family have been living in a rented two-bedroom, one-bathroom house because that's what they can afford.

In order to provide for his family, Pederson conducts home inspections, is an online reseller, fixes older trucks and sells them, makes furniture, and is a wine tour limo driver. Monday through Saturday he's usually working multiple jobs at a time for income. Sundays really depend on the outcome of the rest of the workweek.

"I try to take Sunday off if I can just because that's the day that all three kids are usually home and we can have family outings and stuff," he said. "But it's hit or miss. Some Sundays the bank account looks good and I think I can take the day off, and other times I can't afford it."

Pederson didn't always work multiple jobs. He moved to San Luis Obispo County from King City in 2008 to work in construction with his uncle. Around the same time, the economy took a plunge and Pederson's employment also took a hit. The number of homes needing work dwindled and so did the construction gigs.

"I was a couple years in the trade, and you had guys that were in the trade for 20 years who were willing to work for $15 an hour. So what does that do to a guy that has two years' experience? I mean, you're lucky to get $12 at that point," he said.

So he started working multiple jobs.

Currently local economists and nonprofits are focusing on a category of people who are employed but have more than one job—these individuals fall into the underemployment category. Underemployment has always been accounted for, but now officials are taking a deeper look at how this group of people coincides with the county's economic situation.

Although 9.1 percent of SLO County's population works multiple jobs, there isn't any specific data from the county or private economic firms on why they have two or three jobs instead of just one. This category of people typically works in fields that are below their skill level and earn a low wage.

Similar to employment and unemployment, underemployment plays a role in shaping the local economy.

Employed, sort of

Every year, the Alex Madonna Expo Center is packed with individuals ready to learn about employment, wages, and housing on the Central Coast. On Nov. 2, people talked among themselves over the breakfast buffet, at numbered tables, and by the expo entrance waiting to hear the latest from the Central Coast Economic Forecast.

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Robert Kleinhenz, executive director of research for Beacon Economics, opened the forecast by speaking about the local economy. It was yet another year with good news to report, he said.

SLO County gained about 1,500 jobs, helping drive the unemployment rate down to 2.8 percent, he said. That's lower than the state's average of 4.1 percent unemployment. The highest concentration of employment is in the tourism, hospitality and recreation, and agriculture and food fields, Kleinhenz said.

The county has a strong manufacturing industry that has continued to expand; the county's education, health care, and leisure and hospitality industries added 600 jobs to the labor force.

Although unemployment is down, Kleinhenz said, there are a number of jobs that are going unfilled in the county.

"San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast economy will continue to grow but we're running into, as I know you already know, we're running into the fact that we just don't have enough bodies to fill the jobs," Kleinhenz said.

A lacking labor force could present a difficulty for the county to maintain economic growth into the future.

Those jobs go unfilled because the positions don't carry a high enough wage for people to sustain themselves, according to Dawn Boulanger, the local director for the Workforce Development Board. The economic advisory, planning, and policy board formed to oversee the use of federal, state, and city funding in local economies.

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"The problem that we have more in SLO is not people that are looking for work and can't find it. They can find work; they can't find work that pays adequate wages for them to live here or they can't find work that meets their skill or ability level," Boulanger said.

While the unemployment rate is low for the county, the underemployment rate is high.

The Workforce Development Board released a report this year that highlighted key industry clusters, job quality, talent, educational characteristics, and commute patterns. It's a way for the board to evaluate new opportunities and challenges for workforce development in the county.

According to the report, underemployment means that someone is working in a position below his or her qualification level. That can be someone who is overqualified for his or her position—maybe he or she has a bachelor's degree but is working as a bartender—or someone who found part-time work but is searching for a full-time position.

Boulanger said underemployed workers usually have higher skills, more formal education, and more experience than their current job requires. These workers are typically involuntarily working in a field that differs from their education and earning 20 percent less than their previous job. Underemployment rates also include those who may not be making living wage, might not be working full time, and may not have access to health insurance.

"Our most recent data is showing us that 9.1 percent of middle-skilled workers are either involuntarily working part-time or are working in a position below their qualification level," she said of the county. "That's about eight times the statewide average, which is 1.1 percent."

Making ends meet

Paul Schmitt is a fitness trainer and educator who moved to the Central Coast in 2002 to work toward getting a master's degree in kinesiology from Cal Poly. Schmitt enjoys helping people obtain a healthy way of living because he said a person's health is something that's unique to them.

"You take your health with you everywhere you go. So if you can be healthy and take that with you, you're going to be able to go more places," he said.

FITNESS EDUCATION Between Paul Schmitt's personal fitness business, working at Kennedy Club Fitness, and teaching a class at Cuesta College, the trainer works at multiple places each week. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • FITNESS EDUCATION Between Paul Schmitt's personal fitness business, working at Kennedy Club Fitness, and teaching a class at Cuesta College, the trainer works at multiple places each week.

Naturally, he fell into being a fitness coach while he was going to school, earning his degree in 2005. But after spending some time on the coast, he realized that he didn't want to leave.

"Once you're here, you get to hike, bike, surf, and it's just stunning all the time. You just want to stay, and that's what I did," Schmitt said.

In order to stick around and make a living, Schmitt continued coaching fitness as a trainer at Kennedy Club Fitness, started training from his personal business Farm Fit SLO, and teaching a fitness course through Cuesta College.

On a typical Monday, when all his cylinders are firing, Schmitt starts his day around 5:45 a.m., going from clients at the gym, to his home, a client's home, taking a break for lunch and class preparation, going to teach two classes at Cuesta, and getting home for the evening around 8 p.m.

For now, Schmitt's schedule works out for him because of the flexibility.

"It would be great if I worked full-time at Cuesta for sure, but I'm somewhat ADHD so it's nice to travel and not stay in one place for too long," Schmitt said. "My wife has always said that my job has always fit my personality or my personality fits my job extremely well."

Eventually, he said, he would prefer to have a full-time job at the college because he would get a defined teaching schedule each semester and gain the benefits that a part-time educator doesn't have access to.

Schmitt falls into the underemployment category. While he voluntarily holds multiple jobs and it works financially, eventually he would prefer to have one job and one steady stream of income.

According to the Workforce Development Board, San Luis Obispo County supports more than 122,800 jobs, with an average yearly income of $56,049. The local average is less than both the state and national averages of $78,217 and $66,029, respectively.

Wages differ in the various employment fields throughout the county. Boulanger said the board looks at three tiers of job categories.

Tier 1 occupations include managers, professional positions, and high-skill technical occupations—these are typically higher-paying jobs. According to the board's report, the median wage for a tier 1 worker is $80,413. Tier 2 occupations include sales positions, teachers, librarians, office and administrative positions, as well as manufacturing operations and production occupations. These occupations are considered middle skill, middle-wage positions with an average median wage of $46,530. Tier 3 includes protective services, food service and retail, building and ground keeping, and personal care positions. These occupations are typically lower-paying occupations. The median wage for this tier is $25,730 a year.

"Tier 3 is a negative underemployment rate because there's a deficit. Most of our jobs in the county are low wage," she said. "It's where we see most of our growth in our jobs, and it's where we don't have enough people."

A person's annual wages not only support the individual earning the money, those dollars also support the economy, Boulanger explained. How much an individual makes dictates where they can live and how much they can afford to give back to their economy by spending.

Living sufficiently

When Lorea Slawson turned 18 she started working full time making $8 an hour. A couple of years later she got a second job. To this day, she can't remember a time when she wasn't working more than one job.

Slawson lives in San Miguel with her 8-year-old son. She's the sole provider for her family. She said she works three jobs to make enough money to live. Two to three nights a week, she works at a small pizza parlor in Paso Robles. She also works full time at an animal health company in the same city. And recently, she started bartending at weddings for an event service company.

A typical workweek for Slawson—not including events bartending—runs between 40 to 50 hours.

"Today, I can definitely make it with just my full-time job, but I've gotten used to the extra income for living expenses," she said. "It's a good feeling knowing my son doesn't need anything."

According to the December 2017 report "Making Ends Meet: How Much Does it Cost to Support a Family in California?" in 50 of California's 58 counties, the basic family budget for a single adult exceeds the salary of minimum-wage employees working 40 hours per week.

The California Budget and Policy Center—established in 1995—created the report to provide the state with a source of timely, objective, and accessible expertise on state fiscal and economic policy issues.

The report states that there are two factors that explain the economic challenges faced by many families and individuals in California: the cost of living and wages that haven't kept pace with living expenses.

In all 58 counties, the annual salary of a full-time minimum wage worker is not sufficient to cover the basic budget for a single-parent family. In the same demographic, the combined salary of two full-time minimum wage workers is not enough to cover the basic budget for a two working-parent family.

According to the report, a single adult needs to make an annual income of $26,582 to live in San Luis Obispo County, a single-parent family needs $59,820, a two-parent family with one individual working has to bring in $54,794, and a two-working-parent family, $69,665.

That needed income goes into living expenses and housing, which ultimately goes back into the local economy.

A housing policies report put out by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Vitality Corporation, and the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast states that the county's economic future depends on its ability to deliver housing that is affordable to the workforce—not just housing that is affordable for low-income households. Workforce housing is a home that can be rented or purchased by families earning less than 160 percent of the county median family income.

The report states that only 26 percent of county residents can afford the median home price, compared to 34 percent of residents statewide. In order to afford the $552,830 median home price, a household needs an average income of approximately $110,000 per year.

Michael Manchak, CEO of the Economic Vitality Corporation, said that housing experts both nationally and locally have expressed concerns with the high cost of living in the county, the cost of ownership, and even renting. These are all things that point to the quality of life in a region, which Boulanger said can be subjective. She said people tend to look at their discretionary spending such as entertainment money—money that can be used at a restaurant, the movies, or for making purchases in the community—as an indicator for quality of life.

"If you have so much of your out-go on expenses and predominantly here it's housing, then it limits the amount of discretionary spending that people have, so they're staying home," Boulanger said.

That's the crux of the issue, Boulanger said—a lack of occupational opportunities for underemployed workers that could allow them to live comfortably and support the local community.

"We're not having this issue that people can't find work, we have an issue that people can't find work in their skill level and pays them wages that they can stay and live here," she said. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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