Outlook for IWV 2021 Poverty, Salaries and Employers

Ann Cousineau

This segment in the articles covering the 2021 Outlook Conference, as delivered in the keynote address by Mark Schniepp will include Poverty, Salaries and Employers.

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Poverty

Eastern Kern County has a high rate of poverty, with 18 percent of households living below the poverty line in January 2021. The Eastern Sierra region, by contrast, has a much lower rate, with just 9 percent of households under the poverty line.

The poverty rate in Ridgecrest is similar to the statewide average. In January 2021, approximately 11 percent of all households were below the poverty line in Ridgecrest, compared to 10 percent across California.

The Ridgecrest labor market had a challenging year in 2020, but it performed much better than many other parts of California.

Across California, total employment fell by 15 percent in early 2020, and a similar decline was observed for Kern County as a whole.

But in the Ridgecrest area, total employment dropped by only 3 percent and had almost fully recovered by the end of the year.

In Ridgecrest, the most prominent job losses were observed in the accommodation and food services sector, which is largely comprised of hotels, bars, and restaurants. Indoor dining has been virtually prohibited since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, and bars have been forced to close completely, leading to vastly lower levels of business activity and a meaningful number of layoffs.

In April, accommodation and food services companies shed 273 jobs. By the end of the year, only half of these jobs had been restored.

But in many sectors, initial job losses were mild and some have completely recovered.

A broad labor market rebound began in May, and while most industries have yet to make a full recovery, some have thrived.

A large number of retail jobs were generated over the summer, and the retail industry is now larger than it has been in several years. At the same time, a higher volume of online shopping has led to an expansion of the transportation and warehousing sector, which is now larger than any point on record.

The construction industry went largely unscathed in April and May and expanded sharply during the summer and fall. The Ridgecrest Area is preparing for a large influx of construction workers to repair the facilities at China Lake, where billions of dollars of damage was inflicted by the 2019 earthquake.

The base is the primary economic engine of the Ridgecrest

Area, providing jobs and income that support the local economy. In February 2021, the principal tenant command reported 4,339 federal civilian employees. Other tenant commands reported 672 civilian workers pushing the total federal civilian employment on the base to 5,011 this year. This workforce accounts for 40 percent of all jobs in the greater Ridgecrest labor market.

The unemployment rate in Ridgecrest fluctuated throughout 2020. At the beginning of the year, the unemployment rate was only 2.7 percent within the City of Ridgecrest and 3.8 percent for the Greater Ridgecrest Area. Both of these rates were among the lowest on record.

By June, the unemployment rate reached 7.4 percent within the City and 10.4 percent areawide. The unemployment rate improved during the second half of 2020, but was still elevated at years end. In December, the unemployment rate was measured at 5.4 percent in the City and 7.6 percent across the Greater Area.

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Average Salaries

In 2020, the average wage across Ridgecrest increased by 1.4 percent. Wages had been increasing at rates of 3 percent to 4 percent per year before the onset of the Coronavirus Recession, but wage growth decelerated sharply as the labor market weakened.

The highest salaries in 2020 were observed at the China Lake Weapons Station, and by a wide margin.

Other sectors with high wages in 2019 were finance and insurance, professional and technical services, and manufacturing.

The lowest paying sectors were entertainment and recreation, private educational services, and accommodation and food services.

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Largest Employers in Ridgecrest

A survey of the largest employers in the Ridgecrest Area was conducted during the first half of February. All companies on the list of largest employers were directly contacted by email or phone. Their responses identified employees located at operations within the Greater Ridgecrest Area.

Across the Ridgecrest Area there are 11 organizations with at least 100 employees.

In February 2021, the largest employers had a total of 8,470 workers, representing 67 percent of the entire local labor market.

Between February 2020 and February 2021, the largest gains were at the Walmart, which expanded by 51 jobs.

Cerro Coso increased its headcount by 29 jobs and the Sierra Sands Unified School district added 20 jobs.

The most prominent decline was at Jacobs Technologies, which downsized by 76 positions due to changes in company contracts.

Meaningful reductions in workforce were observed at Saalex and Alta One Federal Credit Union.

The largest employers include 4 public sector organizations and 7 private organizations.

The public sector organizations employed 5,972 workers in February 2021. The private organizations employed 2,498 workers.

Story First Published: 2021-04-02