By Francisco Castro

Sun Contributing Writer

 

The unemployment rate fell in November to 3.5% — its lowest level in 50 years — and, according to the US Department of Labor, wages rose 0.2% in the same month to an average of $28.29 an hour.

Statistics show there’s an economic bonanza in the country, but these good times don’t cover everyone.

Many workers are still losing their jobs, having their hours reduced or simply not being hired as full-time employees so companies don’t have to provide them with benefits.

An Uncertain Future

North Hollywood resident Carlos Martinez will begin 2020 mired in uncertainty since, on Jan. 1, he will be among the 3.5% of Americans without a job.

Just before Thanksgiving, Martinez and 50 other employees at TKO Electronics in Westlake Village received notice they would be losing their jobs on Dec. 31 after the company was sold.

The news took the joy out of Christmas for Martinez, 40, and left him and his family hoping for better times.

“You feel uncertain. Obviously, you want to keep your job. It’s your job and you wonder how you’re going to survive,” said the man who has worked providing IT assistance to small school districts throughout the country.

His wife works, but Martinez said it’s not enough income to live on in a city as expensive as Los Angeles.

“They say the unemployment rate is low. But [for] the people I talk to, it’s the opposite,” Martinez said. “I have a friend who was fired last year when they closed Kmart. Sears is closing, too. All these people are going to be unemployed, too. Yes, the situation is sad.”

Struggling retail chain Sears (and its counterpart Kmart) has been closing stores for some time now. The Valley Plaza location along Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood was among those included in the latest round of closures, affecting 96 stores nationwide.

“We have been working hard to position Transformco for success by focusing on our competitive strengths and pruning operations that have struggled due to increased competition and other factors,” said officials from Transformco — which purchased all assets of Sears Holdings Corp. in February —

in a statement.

Sears is not the only traditional retailer in trouble or that’s been impacted from consumers’ switch to online shopping. Other brick and mortar companies that were once financial giants providing steady, safe employment to thousands of workers who often were employed there until retirement, have also disappeared. Just this year Payless Shoes Source shuttered hundreds of stores nationwide, joining the likes of Toys “R” Us, Blockbuster and Circuit City.

Some studies even credit the demise of these shops to the increasing number of homeless in big, expensive cities like Los Angeles, where rents are simply out of reach for those earning minimum wage.

The closures of more Sears and Kmart stores could mean hundreds of people will begin 2020 unemployed.

“The hardest thing is knowing that big companies manipulate you as they want, and when it’s time for them to leave, they’re looking for the best interest of the business,” Martinez said.

California Unemployment

While the state’s unemployment rate remained at a historic low of 3.9 percent in November with 17.6 million payroll jobs, it was up slightly from the 17.57 million payroll jobs in October, according to the state Employment Development Department.

The agency said eight of the state’s 11 industry sectors showed growth, but the most was seen in educational and health services, information, and motion picture and sound recording.

The EDD also noted there was “unseasonal softness in traditional brick-and-mortar wholesale” jobs. And the state’s low unemployment rate doesn’t extend to Los Angeles county, which posted a 4.6 percent rate.

All of this uncertainty might be leading to an increasing rate of depression in the Golden State. From 2014-2018, California’s depression rate increased 15.79% (the sixth biggest increase in the nation), according to QuoteWizard by Lending Tree.

Across the US, 17.3 million Americans suffer from depression and even more with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Even those who find employment are primarily finding low-wage jobs.

Dan Alpert, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Law who helped create a new economic index — the US Private Sector Job Quality Index — notes this trend.

“The problem is the quality of the jobs available has been deteriorating for the past 30 years,” Albert told the website qz.com.

He calls this “the devaluation of American labor,” where the jobs offered today pay little, lack benefits and predictable hours. And finding a job takes longer.

Low pay means many workers have to keep more than one job. Such is the case for Sonia Lopez’ husband, Luis Rodriguez.

The North Hollywood resident says Rodriguez works in construction or welding during the day and then puts a few more hours at a restaurant at night, washing dishes or helping out in whatever they need.

“He’s the only one who works and (if he didn’t work two jobs) we wouldn’t make it,” said Lopez, a stay-at-home mom.

Martinez’ family is now a one-income household. He’s prepared somewhat by paying off credit card debt and managing to save a little over the years. He will also get a severance package that will alleviate the sudden impact of not earning a living. But he knows he can’t depend on it for long.

For now, Martinez is focused on filling out job applications on different Internet sites, hoping “something will turn up soon.”

“But you just apply. It’s very difficult to get something concrete,” he laments.