Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hamburger Flipper Economics - The Candidate Platforms

As has been said here in the past, the average weekly wage in our County is one of the lowest in the State, hovering around $600 per week. The latest figures (1Q2012) place us in the bottom 6 counties in the state at $604 per week.  Also, while unemployment is generally down from its highest levels, most of our new jobs are low-wage jobs. High-wage jobs are being replaced by low-wage jobs, and if we are experiencing any job recovery at all, we are experiencing a low-wage job recovery. The quality of our jobs is moving in the wrong direction.

One of the lowest wage industries is tourism. Tourism creates a low-wage, low-productivity economy. Thirty years ago when running for President, Walter Mondale cautioned us about an economy that consisted of "wrapping hamburgers and sweeping up around Toyotas." Today, that is the grand plan for our county economy envisioned by many of our politicians. They think tourism is our savior, but tourism economics is hamburger-flipper economics. Tourism is heavy on occupations related to food preparation and service, cashiers, and attendants. Look at the eight lowest paying jobs in America, and it reads like the tourism-skewed nightmare that our leaders pitch to us daily.

According to the 2011 state databook for San Juan County, the largest employment sectors here were:
  • Government - 25.3% (average weekly wage - $774)
  • Wholesale/Retail Trade - 13.9% (average weekly wage - $595 )
  • Construction - 13.6% (average weekly wage - $676 )
  • Accommodation and Food Services - 11.6% (average weekly wage - $367 )
  • Healthcare and Social Assistance - 5.8% (average weekly wage - $527)
By the way, agriculture comprised 1.2% of our economy with a surprisingly high average weekly wage of $727. Real estate (3.6%) had a weekly wage equal to the average. Among all employment sectors, the top weekly wage was earned by Professional Services ($888), and the lowest was earned by Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation ($330).

Note that, besides government, our only top employment sector with an above-average wage (construction) just took it on the chin because of the CAOs. Note, too, that some of our lowest wage employment sectors (accommodation/food service, arts/entertainment/ recreation) are closely linked to tourism. The CAOs discourage nearly every type of economic activity in the San Juans except for tourism.

The just-passed CAOs are the most anti-middle-class, anti-working-class, anti-affordability, anti-people, anti-social-justice laws ever passed in this county. But you never hear CAO supporters admit that. Instead, CAO junkies will continue to falsely claim that they protect our economy and protect family-wage jobs. Don't believe it. It is a lie. Here is Lovel Pratt's press release announcement of her candidacy:
... Pratt recognizes that a strong local economy is key to our community’s sustainability and continued quality of life. She will continue to support and advocate for the infrastructure needed for year-round, family-wage jobs, such as the wireless ordinance. She will continue to support innovative, locally-based solutions that retain local jobs, such as the Lopez Solid Waste District’s and Orcas Recycling Services’ solid waste and recycling services.

Pratt also recognizes that San Juan County’s economy is inextricably connected to the beauty of its environment and the health of its ecosystems.
It is very disingenuous to proclaim support for the local economy when you have just voted to kill it with the CAOs. Beyond buzzwords and platitudes (e.g., sustainability, quality of life, beauty of the environment, health of ecosystems), there is nothing to Pratt's typically vacuous statements.

While you contemplate the economy-killing, low-wage job strategy of our Council members, be aware that the Friends of the San Juans have just today been awarded over $230,000 in new 2013 grants from the state for salmon recovery projects. Other County entities won a further $80,000 in grants. I am sure that news makes your recent $1.6 billion decline in equity much more palatable.

Also, while you contemplate the Council's passage of the largest County budget in history, peruse the benefit plan of County workers, and ask yourself how many other workers in the County might get an equivalent package. I'm not against paying good benefits, but it seems especially ironic that our County government should have among the best pay and benefits package in the islands while our Council pushes economy-killing, low-wage policies on the rest of us.


  1. Why the Bull Market in Firewood means we are Turning Japanese

    If I had to chose one economic indicator to evaluate what is happening in the island economy, it would not be the median sale price for a home, or the lodging tax revenue, or even the cost of a 22ft and under ferry ticket. It is the cost of a split cord of doug fir.

    Notice how it is harder and harder to find prepped firewood on the islands and if you can that that cord costs about 33% more that just 4 years ago and prices are approaching 300 dollars a cord? I have. A quick check of craigslist confirms that our neighbors in Whatcom and Skagit Counties pay in the range of $180 dollars per cord.

    Why the discrepancy and the local inflation. Unlike so many other goods that we buy in the County, we can't blame the increase on cost of physical inputs or transportation. It is not physical supply, after all, Firewood does grow on trees (volumetrically, there is more stumpage on the islands than at any time since the lime kilns wiped out the old growth). It is not transport, as most island firewood grows just a stone's throw from where it goes up the chimney.

    The cost of firewood is the cost of labor, and it is telling us something is very wrong in our local economy. And it is the same economic problem that our islander counterparts in Japan are suffering, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Japan now has the same age profile as the popular U.S. retirement community of Palm Springs, CA. Japan has been mired in a two decade long recession largely because of its demographic profile. Simply, there are not enough productive members of society to support the total expense of its population.

    We are in the midst of a middle class diaspora. We are losing able-bodied entrepreneurial people at an alarming rate. Gone from the market are the countless cords cut by guys with a small investment in a pickup and a chainsaw. These were the guys who worked during the week and made a bit of cash on the side bucking up the local trees on Saturday afternoon with a buddy for a bit of extra spending money. In short, these were guys who could actually do something.

    Try this thought experiment, go to any place on the island where you find a good cross section of locals -- say, for example, the post office -- and look around at the folks who are there and mentally age them by 10 or 15 years. That presents one scary demographic scenario.

    One final thing, if you do not understand the cultural reference in the title of this column, that is my point exactly.

    I am long firewood, short Lovel, and am Nick Power

  2. How about running a local Fair Wages initiative? This initiative would index government wages to local wages and ensure government employees received fair compensation. As local islander's wages increased, so would the government's.

  3. remind me...what do the current councilors get paid for their half time commitment? And...what is that per week?

  4. At half time it is 34K plus bennies, full time is 75K plus bennies.

    So at 1000 hrs half time, they get paid like 34 dollars an hour (not including bennies) or about 700 dollars per 20 hr week. In other words, more than twice as much as the "average".

  5. Yet Another Pissed off DemocratDecember 11, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Lovell Prattfall sort of looks likes a radical Mean Green Machine retread of the Mitt Romney campaign.

    She will try to run as a Democrat, in a nonpartisan race. Don't be fooled. She is no Democrat. Certainly no Republican. The Green Party won't give her the time of day because she has no respect for civil liberties.

    No, she is running for the tribes, the Friends of the San Juans, Futurewise, the Bullitt Foundation, Department of Ecology and a few shadowy types with lots and lots and lots of money.

    She pretends her religion prevents her from taking a true oath of office. She can't bring herself to pledge allegiance to the flag. No, her true allegiances lie elsewhere, and not the Quaker Friends. She is no more a Quaker Friend than a Democrat. No, she is that other kind of Friend.

    No one likes her very much, especially her supporters. But who else do they have? They tried Laura Jo "Aunt Bea" Severson. That went down like a lump of coal. Didn't it?

    Lovel grew up in an east coast political family with a silver foot in her mouth. She has never really had to work to put food on the table. She is more of an aristocratic "community volunteer." In other words, a busy body meddler.

    And, like Romney utterly out touch with those little people who work every day. She doesn't understand our rural character. She's not from around these parts. And she says the silliest things, doesn't she?

    Senator Kevin the Rancor will try to help but his handlers will keep him out of the public eye as much as possible during the upcoming session in Olympia. The less he says, the better.

    Think about it, Lovel is kind of an embarrassment, like Aunt Bea was. Plus the Roadkill Caucus is flexing their muscles in the Washington State Senate. They don't like Rancor much either. Mary Haugen lost her seat in Island County. Kevin may be next as the voters wake up that he is not their Friend. Think about it. The tide is changing.

    In truth, Lovel has basically been fired from her last several jobs. Probably for pretty much the same reasons.

    Now she will float over our heads like some kind of grotesque Macy's parade balloon.

  6. People are rightfully upset...who would not be after getting their net land worth whacked by 20 to 37%. And, now this news that FOSJ just got a boatload of money for "salmon recovery projects."

    Will that money be used to build fish ladders up the middle of Beaverton Valley or up to the ponds in the Lamas farm, or will it be used beat up further on the rest of us with more unproductive and unnecessary regulation, pushing our weak economic vitality even further into the tank.

    (I joke about the fish ladders...maybe, but FOSJ with this kind of cash in hand, well it is a little frightening.)

    And again, it is hard to understand why anyone who lives here 365 would be a member of FOSJ.

    Please join the TH and share your thoughts, after all your property value got nailed too, and you are an islander so it would be good to air things out on both sides or as many sides as there are.

  7. Thank you Scott Roberts, to the extent "We the People" (etc. as stated in our vision statement)live here for benefits not respective of wages of which are low, so too should those supposed representatives of us
    This should also be reflected in number of representatives necessary per populous.

  8. Maybe we can get a Federal grant for a billion dollars or so and build a really nice solor panel manufacturing facility. Then we could pay all the workers at least $30 dollars an hour with at least 10 paid holidays, 3 weeks paid vacation, a generous retirement fund and free health care for life.

    Two or more of these ideas would really increase the quality of life for many in SJC.

  9. According to the Island Guardian article, Lovell Pratt hopes (expects ?) to garner votes from Lopez because of her support of the Charter amendment(s) reducing the council from 6 to 3. Will someone (or, hopefully thousands of someones) from Lopez please tell me that is not so? Frankly, and given that she could not garner sufficient votes to get elected in her own back yard , it strikes me as downright creepy that she would engage in such pandering for Lopez votes.

  10. The discussion should specify what the County government workers' benefits are. It explains a lot. For a family, the County pays like $800 a month for what it calls a "high-deductible" health plan ($1000 is not a "high" deductible) but then the County turns around and pays the County workers $1500 a year to cover the deductible. Meaning that it's a no deductible plan. Benefits are easily worth $10-12,000 a year. Which is why there are so many part-time employees--they work 20 hours but get full-time benefits worth $10,000.

  11. At the county level, we essentially have created a parliamentary democracy. We are run by a parliamentary legislature. As with many parliamentary democracies, there is an even split among the people on many issues, leaving a small minority of extremists to form a coalition with one of the larger parties to rule.

    In our case, San Juan and Orcas were relatively evenly split on the Charter revisions. Lopez voted for it in a big way. The same thing happened with the Land Bank vote. The pattern that is developing is that tiny Lopez will tip the scales in every election now, because of the divisions on San Juan and Orcas. Lopez won't tip it in a moderate way either. Lopez is extremist on many issues: anti-cell phone, pro-National Monument, pro-eco-everything (phony eco), pro-Friends (Buffum, Lawson, Olson all live on Lopez/Shaw), pro-affordable housing (the almost feudal Lopez Community Land Trust has FIVE affordable housing complexes on Lopez).

    Pratt is openly pandering to Lopezians and to "Lopezian values." Look at her election committee: Tom Cowan (Lopezian who voted in full compliance with the GMA), the Reeves (Lopezians who are main backers of the National Monument designation), and Stephen Adams (Lopezian who voted for the CAOs as Planning Commissioner).

    Some of the non-Lopezians on Pratt's campaign committee are high-profile advocates for a variety of self-aggrandizing special interests, like the Scenic Byway. Her remaining committee members include Liz Illg, Jonathan White, Julie Brunner, Carolyn Haugen, Shaun Hubbard, the Jacobson's, and ex-Friends Director and current Senator Kevin Ranker.

    Speaking as a non-Lopezian, I do not see this as a good development, and I hope that enough of us on San Juan and Orcas can overcome our divisions so that every election is not determined by Lopez.

  12. We're Being RailroadedDecember 11, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    Pratt's campaign committee consists of transportation mavens, and that's not a good thing. Transportation is another code word for planning and community-destroying eco-tourism. Let's build more roads, have more ferries, bring in more tourists and oh yeah, all you residents need to move away because you are spoiling the view and killing salmon. Then we'll pat ourselves on the back for being such great environmentalists.

    Cowan is Vice Chair of the Washington State Transportation Commission. Illg heads the Scenic Byway. The National Monument (Reeves) will bring in the tourists like bees to honey. Adams will get the Port of Lopez to back the Scenic Byway for Lopez (which has so far been a holdout).

    We will be "transportation planned" right out of existence. Have you read the Scenic Byway Plan? They want to preserve the San Juans by changing them. This is the kind of stuff they say with a straight face.

    Pratt and her committee comrades feel that central planning is the way to save the San Juans. I think it's the way to continue its demise.

  13. I think of Tom Cowan as the Dr. Frankenstein of our local land-use and environmental policies. If there is an out-of-control cause or citizen committee related to land use or the environment, somehow Tom Cowan has played an instrumental role.

    -As Councilman, voted to fully plan under the GMA.
    -Father of the Marine Resources Committees and Northwest Straits
    -Long-time Land Bank Commissioner
    -CAO Committee facilitator and consultant
    -Consultant to the Department of Ecology and the County
    -Puget Sound Partnership Regional Liaison

    and I am sure there is more.

    As Dr. Frankenstein, it's fitting that he be Pratt's co-Chair. They will make beautiful monsters together. Together, they will reinforce the inanity of the meme of "family-wage jobs, protect the environment, sustainability, connections to Olympia." Note what is not said. There is no mention by Pratt of self-sufficiency, local control, self-reliance, self-determination, or budgetary discipline."

  14. Isn't there some kind of donor/backer disclosure reporting structure in SJC? If not, there sure needs to be.

  15. Hold all calls. The comment that Lovel Pratt on religious grounds refuses to take the oath of office and also on religious grounds refuses to pledge allegiance to her Country boggles the mind a bit.

    What ever happened to separation of church and state? Seems Ms. Pratt feels her religion is more important to her than the office she is running for or the country she lives in.

    OK, fine, plenty of people are conscientious objectors based on religious grounds, (it's a good thing we live so close to Canada) but in most instances, until Ms. Pratt came along, this is used to GET OUT OF serving the government or the state.

    It probably has been litigated, what hasn't, that someone can refuse to take the oath of office and still be seated and have their vote count, but it does leave one scratching the head, why anyone would put themselves in such a situation.

  16. A council I reported on once experienced a situation where five candidates were running for three seats.

    After the election it was discovered that about 600 voters had only voted for one candidate. And later still, I was able to get a person involved to admit it was a clear strategy by his candidate to get his supporters to do this. It was a small town and the guy won big.

    Here we already have one candidate who pledges to game the vote.

    So Mr. parliamentarian; if, after run offs, we have two candidates running from each district for three seats and there can only be one successful candidate from each district, how does this get played?

    Does not look like healthy government to me.

  17. The issue of the "higher God" I guess and who gets your oath, the state or someone upstairs I guess some sects of Quakers had issues going back to the founders so if I understand how this works, the US Constitution also provide for an affirmation of office as a legal alternative to a sworn oath of office because some folks have legitimate religious grounds that their only sworn oath is to God.

    So, in way, there is a separation of church and state but there is no consistency within the Quakers here. Some do. Some don't. Just like anybody else. So it is a choice.

    The problem is that this allows one to -- deep inside -- believe their true alligience lies elsewhere than their public office.

    And as to one's true God. I suppose that could be Gaia, Demeter, Jehovah, the Great Spirit or Bob Dobbs.

    With Lovel, it is a bit hard to tell and its worth raising as an issue because the public deserves to hear the answer and judge the sincerity for themselves, weighing in the bargain for example, her remarkable ability to comprehend what conflict of interest means.

    There may be other conflicts the voters need to take into account.

  18. Well ooops, in the above that should read ... to be clear ...

    "her remarkable ability to MIScomprehend what conflict of interest means."

    So there.

  19. Why even go here? Why comment on Lovel's religion. It is just so unnecessary and risks turning people off.

    I am Nicholas E. "D" (for Doan --as in the prominant and old Quaker family which was key in the underground railroad and flagrantly and proudly violated the anti-fugitive slave clause in the U.S. Constitution and therefore would not swear to it's allegiance) Power.

    Leave her alone on this -- it is a turnoff._ There are plenty of legitimate issues

  20. I agree with Nick. Well said.

  21. The facts are: Proposition 1 did not pass without the Lopez votes. Just a sample of what we have to expect in the future.

  22. As of 12/12/12, who has filed to run?

    Lovell Pratt, Marc Forlenza, Bob Jarman(?) - San Juan
    Rick Hughes (?) -Lopez
    Greg Ayers, Lisa Byers - Orcas

    Who else?

    Filing deadline is Dec 14th. The Eco-Zealots will push Pratt and Byers. It only takes 2 to continue the march to Hell!

  23. From the County website as of 12/12/12 at 6:30pm

    Candidates who have filed:

    Lovel Pratt
    2551 Cattle Point Rd Friday Harbor, WA 98250 lovel@lovelpratt.org
    Bob Jarman
    PO Box 1983
    Friday Harbor, WA 98250 electbobjarman@gmail.com
    Council Residency District 2
    Rick Hughes
    PO Box 805
    Eastsound, WA 98245 starwave96@hotmail.com
    Elizabeth (Lisa) Byers PO Box 806 Eastsound, WA 98245 lisa@lisabyers.org
    Greg Ayers
    906 Wright Rd
    Eastsound, WA 98245 gregayers@ayers2013.com
    Council Residency District 3
    Brian McClerren
    17 Swal Lech Ln
    Lopez Island, WA 98261 revealclean@gmail.com
    Jamie Stephens
    PO Box 776
    Lopez Island, WA 98261 jamies@rockisland.com

  24. I see the nightmare team already:


    "Buckle your seat belts, bend forward with your head between your legs..."

  25. QUOTE "Anonymous said...
    I see the nightmare team already:


    To those folks who are actively taking up suit against the CAO process and the charter, may you be successful in your endeavors. We need a victory to put the brakes on this, now more than ever.

  26. I would not be so quick to lump Byers in with the others. She's actually worked for a living here in the islands, has been one of the largest real estate developers on Orcas, and well understands the hell the County puts people through who simply want to use their land.

    She also is quite good at getting people with very different opinions talking honestly to one another, and working out solutions everyone can live with.

  27. Pratt, Stephens--have they ever had a real job? And please don't say farming. Byers has worked in the NGO system--anywhere else?

    Will they be supporting a Housing Authority with another tax? A transportation system with another tax? A stormwater system with another tax? Those cute and ever-present Byways signs? What else can our own cradle-to-grave County government provide for us?

  28. Reading through a lot of this commentary recently. Trying to see past some of the stronger language. Kudos for the editor of the TH for giving free reign while keeping a lid on things. You are to be commended.

    Issues are surfacing. Some of the comment about First Nations and Quakers kind of affected me. Not hard to see how emotions run kind of high around these sorts of topics. Emotions can be used to manipulate us against one another.

    Someone pointed out that tribal governments around here can be a problem, not the tribes - not the people. Churches and religious groups can have problems too can't they? Seems like its possible to separate what's pretty good about Quakers or any other spiritual calling from the possible misuse of good works for political gain?

    I guess I can think of at least one flag saluting Quaker who wonders about Lovel's position. It is sort of like this guy from the Tulalip nation who uses native issues as a way to divide our community against itself. Aren't they kind of the same? What do you do when your intuition feels somethings not right?

    The only underground railroad Lovel Pratt might be involved seems like backroom meetings and secret deals to quietly move grants around and generate division in the community.

  29. R King,

    I think you make a good point. Byers has had to work under county regulation and has done alot of construction, while the Lopez influence has created the regulation. I have a hard time seing her as a "Friend" friend since she is anti lawsuit - which is all that they do!