Money & Careers

Labor Day: Not a Day of Celebration for the Unemployed and Underemployed

It’s Labor Day and many people in Nevada County, Calif., are enjoying their last holiday of the season. The weather is still warm so our local lakes and rivers are seeing an onslaught of visitors eager to enjoy the waning days of summer.

Nevada County, a bucolic rural area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range John Muir called the “Range of Light,” is about an hour northeast of Sacramento. It was heavily populated in the 1800s by miners hoping to strike it rich in the Gold Rush. Historical records suggest, however, that many were the women who ran boarding houses, fed the miners, washed their clothes, and sold them the supplies needed to prospect. Initially women were scarce in the region but soon they recognized that there was money to be made providing the day-to-day services the men required. And yes, there were brothels in the towns but also theaters that provided entertainment for the townspeople. Today in Nevada City plays and reviews are staged in the oldest running theater in California, where Lola Montez once sang and danced.

Although Labor Day weekend is for many people a time of relaxation with friends and family, it’s also a time to recognize the importance of the labor that is the day-to-day focus of most people’s lives. Nevada County is fortunate in that its current unemployment rate is 5.2 percent, much lower than surrounding counties, and much lower than the 2010 figures when over 12 percent were unemployed here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is also lower than California’s overall current unemployment rate of 5.5 percent.

Initially an area that employed mine workers and loggers, today the No. 1 industry in Nevada City and environs is tourism. Both Grass Valley, a nearby town, and Nevada City are known for their picturesque Victorian homes, attractive small main streets, as well as lovely forest settings. Many retirees from the Bay Area and Los Angeles who visit end up moving here.

While a perfect home for those with a retirement income, or for doctors and dentists, teachers and attorneys, workers who make their living in service industries often have difficulty finding employment. Many construction firms went out of business in the housing crunch several years ago, leaving people who were accustomed to being comfortably employed in dire straits. Some left the area, and the schools saw declining enrollments.

For working-class people who have remained, another major issue is affordable housing. Rentals are scarce, with a two-year waiting list for low-income apartments. Economic development is reducing the number of affordable rentals in the area. Hotel and other development projects under consideration by the county would displace more rental homes, while at the same time offering more job opportunities.

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  • Lex Matteini September 5, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you for this reminder that Nevada City can do more to create a better quality of life for those who are working and renting. It is not the zero sum game that the community has talked itself into: that either we have growth with a diminished quality of life for retired homeowners who want peace, quiet and parking, or we have no growth and a diminished quality of life for Millennials and Z’s who want housing, employment and homophily. We can do both. It will require diversification beyond a tourism economy and also the influx (not exodus) of young people who have what they needs here, especially in terms of social connectedness and intellectual capital to start the next generation of businesses.