The Coastal Post - December, 1996

Working Conditions In Marin

BY KAREN NAKAMURA

A simple check of the want ads in the Independent Journal shows that few entry-level positions offer a wage commiserate with the cost of living in Marin.

Positions such as counter help, drivers, warehouse loaders and aides at group homes start at $6 to $7 an hour average. The ceiling kicks in around $10.

Starting positions ranging from $7 to $10 are found in semi-skilled positions such as housekeepers, security officers, data entry operators, shift supervisors and telemarketers.

Union and trade positions, such as grocery clerks and skilled carpenters, make the next step up to $15. Trained medical personnel, supervisors, accredited teachers and licensed commission sales people, such as real estate agents, can take in up to $25.

The salary range for a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, is $11,520 at $6/hr. to $19,200 at $10. The $25/hr. position equates $48,000 a year. Consider all the people you see in Marin every day and the percentage that fall into this category whether we're talking one or two incomes. That's the vast majority of us. Almost all of these positions have a glass ceiling on wages and usually the lower the wage, the lower the ceiling. A worker who spends ten years at a burger joint isn't going to see much more than a $5 increase in hourly wages.

And those in potentially lucrative commission sales depend on product viability. A real estate agent might get a large commission-the standard 1.5% of a $500,000 sale is $7,500. A nice chunk. But many agents don't achieve a sale every month, and each sale isn't so high.

It's common knowledge low wage workers can't afford to live in Marin where the cheapest full service rental-studio apartment with kitchen and bath-run in the $500-$700 range, approximately the same as their net pay of $624.

What's even more frightening is that the majority of Marinites can't afford middle-class living conditions.

According to rule-of-thumb financial guidelines, rent should be 1/3 of the family income. In the case of the lowest paid, that's $208. The rest should go towards food, utilities, car upkeep, etc. Problem is, the cheapest rooms are in the $290 to $325 range, and these usually come with no kitchen facilities and share a bath. What happens is that the roof over the head gets paid, and the rest goes on crisis management. Remember, every person considered here works a full 40-hour week.

In order to live in your own studio/one bedroom, you have to earn at least $10/hr. for a monthly net of $1040. That still means paying 50-60% of your net income on rent. In fact, it isn't until a person earns $15/hr. at $1650 net that they can achieve the 1/3 living costs financial guideline for a $500-$550 rental, the going rate for a studio or nice room rental. Needless to say, these wage earners are also paying half of their income on housing.

At $20/hr. a high figure in common wages, the net is $2,080. Using the rule of thumb of 1/3, rent should run $680, the usual cost of a small, one-bedroom apartment. Only when wages hit $25/hr., at $48,000 gross, $2,600 net per month, can a single-income family qualify for a house running $867, almost impossible to find. That high-paid worker still has to use half his/her income to live in standard middle-class housing. That means less savings and fewer purchases.

Something's wrong here. What's frightening, and basically affects the living standard of all of the above, is that with Innovative Housing closing, the building of low- and low-middle income housing has been brought to a virtual halt. And there seems to be no end in sight for the rise in costs of rental/sales units. Here in Marin, we pat ourselves on the back, confident that we treat our residents very well. But Marin has gone the way of the nation. A large portion of its residents are being denied basic housing needs commensurate with their supposed position in life.

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