Low-skilled immigrants struggling to move up

lowwage.jpgThat's a notable contrast to 20 years ago when recent arrivals often started in low-wage positions, but were able to advance to a middle class lifestyle. These days, many of the mid-level jobs are gone, especially in manufacturing. A study by the UCLA Anderson Forecast finds that L.A. has a higher percentage of immigrants with low job skills than folks in Miami, San Francisco, and New York. This creates a have and have-not economy that leaves large segments of the population struggling to make ends meet. Recent news about Boeing completing the last C-17 cargo plane for the Air Force is a reminder of how solid, blue-collar jobs are fast disappearing. From this week's Business Update on KPCC:

Mark Lacter: Today, many of those jobs are gone, and they're being replaced by positions that require greater skill that's borne out of greater education. And that, of course, is another problem: a sizable percentage of recently-arrived immigrants never finished high school, much less college, and that makes it even less likely that they'll be able to move up.

Steve Julian: Related, or unrelated, to the recession?

Lacter: Well, a little of both. L.A. had serious income inequality in December of 2006, before the recession, when the county's unemployment rate was just 4.3 percent - a stunningly low rate when you consider that as of July, the jobless rate was almost 10 percent. Even the jobs that are available aren't very good jobs. Point is, this division of haves and have-nots can happen even when the economy is doing well.

Julian: And it seems the last C-17 to be built for Air Force is a reminder of wage gap.

Lacter: That's right - it'll be up to foreign customers to keep the program Boeing currently has an order from India for 10 of the cargo planes, and they're also looking for business from Japan. Frankly, the only reason the C-17 has lasted this long is heavy political pressure by congressional lawmakers whose districts have an economic stake in the program. At one time, as many as 16,000 people may have worked on the C-17 in Long Beach, but that number has fallen sharply over the years.

Julian: Still, this is the last airplane manufacturing plant in Southern California.

Lacter: And that, of course, speaks volumes about the state of the aerospace business, which had been one of the main economic drivers in the days leading up to World War II. Aerospace continued to be very important until the end of the Cold War, when you had a huge industry consolidation that resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of local jobs. There's still quite a bit of aerospace activity locally that involves missiles, satellites, and electronics - both for the major defense contractors like Boeing and Northrop, and for smaller contractors and sub-subcontractors that still get a piece of the military pie.

Julian: But most of them require high skill levels...

Lacter: Yes, and that gets us back to the folks who are stuck in low-paying jobs with little prospect for moving up. This is what the L.A. economy is all about, the good and the bad.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent Business Update on KPCC stories:
Naysaying emerges in wake of LAX shootings*
Holiday shopping: On your marks, get set... spend!
What to do with all that bad chicken?
Why it's hard to gauge progress of health care programs
Why L.A. isn't being hit too hard by shutdown - for now

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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