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When the last census data for San Diego was released, voiceofsandiego.org asked an interesting question: How did we get from an hourglass economy to a teardrop one?

The answer lies in our priorities, in whether we are planning for economic prosperity for all San Diegans. According to SANDAG, since 1990, for every one high-paid worker, the region has added 24 low-paid workers. More than half of the region’s jobs are in low-paying industries. In a comparison of 24 metros across the country, San Diego has the lowest average wage per job, when adjusted for cost of living. According to Dean Calbreath:

The erosion of middle-class jobs has removed some rungs of the ladder that allow lower-paid workers to gain higher-paying employment and become better consumers. (Union Tribune, 09/02/2007)

Leading the pack in the low-wage industries is the leisure and hospitality industry, which has an average employment of more than 150,000 in San Diego County. It has the lowest annual wage ($21,632, including tips and gratuities). Within this industry, there are 29,323 workers employed in 514 hotels and motels in the region, who get paid an average $536 per week.

The hotel industry primarily employs housekeepers, who work full-time with an assigned quota of 15-20 beds per day. Lifting beds is not a seasonal job or a stepping block to a career in hotel management. The employment spread becomes evident when we go deeper into occupations within the tourism industry. Based on median wages by occupation, for every 100 jobs created in the hotel industry, 80 jobs will be below the living wage of $12.41 an hour.

When a housekeeper develops a back-pain from lifting “Heavenly Beds” for years, she cannot go to a doctor. Only one-in-five of workers in the Accommodation & Food Services industry have job-based insurance, the least among major industries in the state. Another 14 percent in this industry obtain insurance through a partner’s or relative’s employer, and 9 percent buy insurance independently, leaving 56% of workers in this industry uninsured or relying on government programs. Creation of jobs in industries with high growth rates and low insurance rates can be expected to have a negative impact on the rate of employment-based health insurance.

As we plan for the next 20 years, it is time to evaluate the negative consequences of promoting tourism jobs without self-sufficiency wages or health benefits.

— MURTAZA BAXAMUSA

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