Labor on the South Shore: Low wages, fewer workers to fill jobs |

Labor on the South Shore: Low wages, fewer workers to fill jobs

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Looking for a job to try new things, Donna O'Rork describes her work experience to John Johnson, a personnel director at Substitute Personnel & Business Services.

After Britta Nauta graduated from California State University, Sacramento last year, it wasn’t long before she was living in Tahoe, drawn to the area’s outdoor lifestyle.

Looking for an alternative to the region’s many low-paying jobs, Nauta, 23, moved into her mother’s Tahoe Keys home and dove right into Anchor Design, a graphic design company she started with little capital expenses and a lot of gumption.

Nauta believes her entrepreneurial attitude will help her succeed in a job market known for its low pay.

“It takes a certain type of person. You have to have time management and determination,” she said.

Many classified advertisements in the Tahoe Daily Tribune list jobs for $7, $8 and $9 an hour. Entry-level ski patrol jobs were listed with a starting wage of $7.50 an hour.

And wages don’t appear to have changed much through the years. In 2001 – four years ago – the California Employment Development Department reported the entry level hourly wage at $7.14 for all occupations. The special report indicated the mean hourly wage was $14.99.

Kim Copel, a personnel director at Blue Ribbon Personnel of South Lake Tahoe, a job recruitment agency, said the summer started with fewer job orders than usual – the odd part was the difficulty finding workers to fill the openings.

“What I noticed in the past is I’d put in a classified and get a fair amount of response, pretty quickly,” she said. “Now I’m finding we get fewer responses and at times no response.”

Like other recruiters, Copel sees a trend causing the uneven job-to-worker ratio. Every day, residents talk about either leaving or knowing someone who is because they can’t afford housing at the wages companies are paying.

Now, more employers are using the personnel agency in the hopes of finding more qualified workers.

“But if our clients can’t find the people, where are we going to find the people?” she said.

According to an El Dorado County report, more than 70 percent of the homeowners in South Lake Tahoe hail from outside the area at least part of the year.

“Those second homeowners don’t need a job,” Copel said.

John Johnson of Substitute Personnel agreed, saying the phenomenon has “affected the balance in town – and everything that goes along with that.”

The recent Caesars Tahoe layoffs – numbering at least 100 according to rough estimates – hasn’t helped the situation.

“That means less people in town. If the level keeps dropping, who knows what could happen,” he said. He is hopeful the situation will improve.

Brace ourselves

But labor analysts on both sides of the state line caution other economic factors could hinder South Shore job growth.

If gasoline prices dissuade travelers from choosing Lake Tahoe, the tourism industry could see additional problems, California EDD labor analyst David Lyons said. Eighty-five percent of local dollars are attributed to tourism – the potential affect on employment could be negative.

“It’s going to be costing these visitors $60 to $70 for gas getting up here,” Lyons said.

And Jim Shabi, a Nevada labor analyst, said he expects gas prices to be as disruptive to the economy as 9/11, the 2001 recession and casino mergers.

Still, Shabi’s office – the state’s employment development department – touts a strong economic expansion in Nevada. The state may have good reason to celebrate aside from Stateline’s issues.

Although Douglas and El Dorado counties were equal in July’s unemployment percentages with 4.4 percent, Nevada’s 4.2 percent outdoes California by almost a full percentage point. Nevada added 16,800 new jobs to the leisure and hospitality industry alone.

Lake Tahoe Community College

Internship Fair

Sept. 27, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

LTCC Commons

Information: (530) 541-4660, Ext. 295

July 2005 unemployment statistics

— South Lake Tahoe – 6.1 percent (estimated); 6.4 percent in July 2004

— El Dorado County – 4.4 percent

— Sacramento metro area – 4.9 percent

— California – 5.1 percent

— Douglas County – 4.4 percent; 4.1 percent in July 2004

— Nevada – 4.2 percent

— Carson City – 4.5 percent

— Reno-Sparks – 3.9 percent

— U.S. – 5 percent (Aug.-4.9 percent {just released})

Sources: California Employment Development Department & Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation

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