Friday, June 5, 2015

Renaissance of the Inland Empire Middle Class

How can we fairly combat income inequality and fill our transit fleets with a productive workforce?


Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com



We the people are just about inundated in a constant stream of bad news describing the growing divide between the rich and the poor. The group in between, known as the middle class by many, is reportedly continuing to vanish with the salary gaps widening. The evidence of this divide, known to many as income inequality is all around us.

But this trend could reverse course, and quickly. And I've been noticing a potential opportunity for the hard workers of the middle class to regain potential in the marketplace.

Historically, the productive hands and feets of our population commonly known as the middle class drove the market economy which allowed disciplined and hardworking individuals the opportunity to earn decent wages with only a high school diploma, the opportunity to gain skills within the employer and advance up, live in a desirable home within a reasonable distance to/from work, have efficient choices to get around, and even be able to afford to take the family on vacations and entertainment on their days off.

Are the blue collar jobs really coming back?

Here in the Inland Empire, a much desirable job market is growing. Goods fulfilment, distribution, logistics, and manufacturing jobs are slowly but steadily all on the increase. People have basically had enough of the general sub-par quality of cheaper products made or assembled overseas. Many Americans continue to be frustrated of having to go through a maze in order to get customer service on the phone only to be directed to a telephone operator overseas as corporations return call center jobs back home.

Products assembled here can have better quality simply because we actually use the products and know which areas deserve quality control. Plus employees can be trained in-house. Same goes for customer call centers.

I therefore believe the demand for American-made and assembled goods is growing stronger.

This is a potential sign of a possible return of intermediate job opportunities for high school and Associate Degree graduates, such blue-collar labor jobs that were basically lost when corporations took manufacturing and other job duties overseas decades ago.

Up until recently, many Americans generally needed to have graduated from a four year university or go through an intense certification program in order to embrace economic prosperity and self reliance because such jobs required specific skills and critical on-the-spot decision making. Otherwise, for those only graduating from high school, the only job opportunities were generally the lower paying entry level jobs, mostly in the retail and restaurant sectors. That is potentially why many workers who may be stuck in these sectors are demanding better opportunities and higher wages. But we need to maintain the entry level jobs for high school youth and anybody else who would benefit from low-responsibility positions.

To be fair, many logistics opponents correctly point that the Inland Empire is starved for the high salary, skill-based jobs too for those with Bachelors and Doctorate Degrees. Businesses must be incentivized to invest in these jobs here too on top of the blue collar ones. Plus, as critics correctly claim, major logistics development projects such as the World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley need to be held to account for truck pollution, traffic impacts on surface streets, and other valid concerns raised by residents.

However for the first time in decades, more high school graduates and 2-year college Associate Degree holders may be finding good and honest intermediate work that pays better and has higher responsibilities than what is offered in entry-level jobs. These opportunities need to expand because not everybody is called to hold a degree from a university. Many simply are called to be the working hands and feet of the system.

The Middle Class Dream for the Inland Empire

One of the reasons why I bring up economic topics like this on a transit blog is simply because when our surface transportation infrastructure, trains, and bus routes are used by a productive workforce, the tax revenue and fares generated by such work can better fund the system.

But funding the system is only a secondary goal of improving the market economy. The primary goal should be bringing about A Better Inland Empire where the good people of Riverside and San Bernardio Counties can embrace the freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and not be slaves to physical poverty, long commutes, expensive housing, or poor transportation infrastructure.

The growth of middle class jobs is just one way we can fairly combat the income inequality issue. With these new job opportunities, those working in the retail sector can finally move up and receive better salaries. That's already evident because I'm seeing the "Now Hiring" signs returning to the windows of many fast food restaurants and other entry-level places with the option to actually fill out a paper job application in the store.

With better job competition, employers in such sectors actually need to market and potentially offer better pay for workers because the good and productive employees are needed. Increasing marketplace job opportunities is a major key to solving the income inequality problem. Employers must be inclined to expand, compete and invest in these positions. Ironically, trivial regulatory rules and high taxation and fees on businesses discourages job expansion and these employment opportunities. That has to change.

We must incentivize the high-paying job makers to invest in the Inland Empire. They must be encouraged to expand opportunities. Here are some innovative ideas that could further bring about economic opportunity for the middle class, especially those who work hard, bring value to their employer and are promoted through the marketplace:

  • Innovation of Clean and Efficient Alternative Fuels - Research and development of improving renewable energy like solar, wind, and water and making it more efficient could bring about a major boost to the economy and free us from high prices at the gas pump and high electric bills. Expect the companies that deliver working products to be the next major employers.
     
  • Desalination of ocean water - The technology has been around for some time. How can we better improve its efficiency of purifying sea water and making the technology more affordable for businesses and families just like individual solar panels are today? The innovation of that would put an end to droughts worldwide immediately.
  • Improving Manufactured Buildings & Infrastructure - This could better increase competition with housing developers because portions of buildings would be designed and produced in mass as manufactured construction blocks. That lowers prices, greatly speeds up development times and can improve structural quality. China has already experimented with such an innovation with full-size skyscrapers including a 57 story tower that was errected in 19 working days.

    Combined with efficient government land-use policies, such an innovation could efficiently increase quality housing supplies within mere weeks which would help keep living in the Inland Empire affordable. Imagine living in a spacious 3,000 square foot condo unit for only $200,000 in any Southern California suburban corridor.

    Futher engineering the linked construction blocks to withstand powerful earthquakes can make developing family-friendly condos and towers in urban areas more affordable. That affordable $1,500 per-month 3-5 bedroom 3,000 square foot condo unit in the heart of the Irvine Business Complex--not subsidized by the government--may be coming...
     
  • Rebuiding the Family Unit - Through the non-profit sector, continued research and development on this serious social issue at the local level can one day transform dangerous Inland Empire neighborhoods into thriving and desirable regions to raise children.
     
  • Expansion of Constructive Youth Programs - These include more youth activities, restorative justice programs for the incarcerated of whom want to turn away from crime, mentors and youth adoption programs. Those who do grow up in troubled neighborhoods need a second chance to thrive. Through the non-profit sector, troubled teenagers can find places where they belong which do not involve the criminal gang culture. Combined with robust and strong law enforcement, such restorative programs can help clean up gang and youth-related crime. Wealthy businesses and individuals would be able to fund these programs through the non-profit sector or through President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initative.

Combined, this is a potential solution to combat the income inequality problem fairly. This is potentially how we can bring about A Better Inland Empire.

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