Here from this morning’s local newspapaer.The Post Democract
Sonoma County business leaders on Wednesday morning heard two different messages about the local economy, one from a UCLA economist and the other from protesters who briefly but raucously interrupted an annual breakfast meeting.
The economist, Jerry Nickelsburg, congratulated an estimated 500 business people “on a very vibrant economy” here that in the past few years has enjoyed record job growth. Meanwhile, the protesters, some of whom entered the Double Tree Hotel ballroom in Rohnert Park where the breakfast was held, lamented that working people in Sonoma County must contend with soaring rents and stagnant wages.
The protesters’ 10-minute interruption of the annual State of the County breakfast was punctuated by chants of “We do the work” and “No contract, no peace.” The latter was a reference to the ongoing labor contract dispute between the county and its largest union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021.
The program came to a halt until Rohnert Park police arrived and asked the more than 40 protesters in the room to leave. They were part of an estimated 300 demonstrators from SEIU and the North Bay Organizing Project who arrived before most of the breakfast guests Wednesday, causing many business people to search beyond the Double Tree for a place to park their cars.
Once they’d departed the room, both Nickelsburg and Board of Supervisors Chairman Efren Carrillo separately took to the podium to give presentations. Carrillo’s speech included the announcement that he won’t run for re-election this year.
Economist Nickelsburg told the guests that Wednesday’s demonstration was itself a sign of a strong labor market. “This wouldn’t have happened in 2009,” a year into the recession, said Nickelsburg. He is a regular speaker for the annual breakfast and an adjunct professor with UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
California and the county are enjoying record levels of employment, he said, and the state also is benefiting from peak numbers of international travelers flying into Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The county’s job total was 205,200 last month, with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, according to state figures. In contrast, in December 2009 the county had 175,200 jobs, and unemployment was 10 percent. Nickelsburg predicted 3 percent growth for the nation’s gross domestic product this year, with the Bay Area continuing to outperform the United States.
While growth eventually will slow, he said, it will do so mostly because growing companies will find it increasingly difficult to hire more workers, a major ingredient for boosting business output.
To those who maintain that the official unemployment rate fails to account for those forced to take part-time work or to retire early, Nickelsburg suggested after his speech that it nonetheless remains a reasonable gauge for measuring those actually looking for work today.
He predicted the state’s annual unemployment rate for this year will decline to 5.2 percent from 6.2 percent in 2015.
“That’s real full employment,” Nickelsburg told the audience.
After the breakfast, Carrillo readily agreed with demonstrators that “a tale of two counties” can exist when it comes to the economy and its effects on local residents.
“Poverty is real in Sonoma County,”
There are a number of “lessons” here. Divergence of perspective, who does the economist represent? what is the meaning of employment if prices increase and wages are flat for most and cut for many?
For the 1 percent and in many ways for the top 10 percent the economy is doing pretty well. But even then the stress within families as they contemplate the future of their children is painful to observe. There seems to be no place of security on the entire globe even for the wealthiest. And the middle-class is a game of musical chairs with shrinking Numbers of good jobs. The 10% in most of the world live in such a way as to avoid the 90%. They go from home in zoned if not gated communities to workplaces and shopping centers and occasionally fly to vacation spots. They never see much less interact with the conditions under which most people live and work.