A collision course of high rents and low minimum wage
On Sunday, the Ventura County Star printed a front page article on the dire reality of high rents in Ventura County. It spoke of the struggle not only to afford apartments in the area, but also to find them vacant — average rent in Ventura County is roughly $1,525 and the vacancy rate buoys around 2 percent to 3 percent. When the median income in the county is roughly $55,000 for one person, according to the Area Housing Authority of the County of Ventura, and the average annual rent is approximately $18,000, that means half of 825,000 residents of Ventura County will have to pay at least one-third of their income on housing. Those further down the income scale, the more paid for housing, the less saved and the less spent in the local economy.
Ironically, in the same Sunday paper, Joe Matthews, who writes for Zocalo Public Square, made a call to young people to move to inland California to look for jobs and cheaper housing. The one thing that the article did not address was the fact that, should so many young people move inland, who exactly will be working the low-wage jobs in Ventura County? Should they be forced to commute many miles to their low-income jobs, sacrificing income for travel costs? And while some declare that these low-wage jobs are meant for low-skilled workers, these same people seem to overlook the fact that not all low-wage earners fit that bill. A 2012 report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research found that of the low-wage earners in 2011, around 33.3 percent completed some college and 9.9 percent have college degrees.
Further, the national and statewide conversation about minimum wage only exacerbates the problem, with state and congressional legislators reluctant to mandate higher pay for these low-skilled jobs. The reality for many low-income workers is that they are too poor to pay for and go to school as well as work the hours they need to take care of their households, so they choose work over school. For those that are educated and can’t find better work — it’s a depressing situation. If the minimum wage was higher, perhaps more time could be spent improving skills than flipping burgers or cleaning hotel rooms, etc. The excessive pay at the top of many of these companies that keep their workers at the lowest of wages is completely imbalanced. The cycle of poverty is practically inescapable unless legislators change the laws or society changes its way of thinking. Unfortunately, not all are born with silver spoons in their mouths and have the ability to accomplish what other families and individuals have been able to.
But if the solution is for young, lower-income earners to move inland, then what will become of the coastal communities that need these eager hard workers to take risks and grow local economies? It has been noted by local economists that in Ventura County it will only take a few decades to see our cities’ populations chock-full of retirees with stagnant (if not deflating) economies, without the presence of young people building their careers and taking risks on new ventures. The solution is not to tell the young risk-takers to move out of the expensive coastal communities. The solution is to help them settle here so they can grow and take part in helping cities prosper.
Instead of shoving young adults out of the area, political leaders need to face the dire situation that if we don’t intervene, California’s coastal communities will resemble the many retirement villages of Florida that only see growth spurts during holiday and seasonal vacations. Is that the goal of Ventura County officials? We hope not. We need more housing available on the market. We need more affordable housing. We need business owners to pay better and we need better paying jobs. We need to make this a public discussion. California is highly regarded for its progressive ideas. Let’s not turn into community of only old money and retirees.