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Unemployment tops 20 percent

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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Lincoln’s unemployment rate has topped 20 percent for two months running, according to the California Employment Development Department. In figures released last month, Lincoln is shown to have 20.1 percent unemployment in July, compared with 12.2 percent at the same time last year. “It really kills me to think of the kids – the 20- to 30-year-olds,” said Goldie Morisoli, Sunset Villa Mobile Home Park manager. “There’s no jobs for them.” Morisoli said she recently had a tenant who had to move out because he lost his job and couldn’t afford to pay rent or buy food. “It very much concerns me,” Morisoli said. “If you’re unemployed, the resources you need just aren’t there.” According to Steve Art, economic and redevelopment manager for the city of Lincoln, the economy in general is to blame for unemployment. “Unemployment certainly is a concern of ours,” Art said. “People are going to be spending less, which means that there’s less sales tax (to pay for city services), people are going into foreclosure and it hurts the local economy.” The loss in sales tax has a direct effect on unemployment levels, according to Art, who said government-employee layoffs are one of the large contributors to unemployment. Although the percentage is large when compared with about 11 percent for Placer County as a whole, Art said it is not necessarily an accurate number. “For Lincoln, they tend to be exaggerated numbers,” Art said, “because they use a lower population level to base it on. Last time I checked, they were using a population level of 27,000, and now we’re closer to 40,000.” According to Justin Wehner, labor market consultant for the greater Sacramento Area of the Employment Development Department, the figures aren’t necessarily 100-percent accurate. The numbers used by the Employment Development Department to determine a city’s unemployment level are based on the 2000 census, and when estimated population growth differs from actual population growth, the numbers can be skewed. “Since we’re in the ninth year of the decade, that could mean there’s a potential amount of bias,” Wehner said, adding that the next census will be conducted in 2010 and many are awaiting those numbers for a greater handle on accuracy. Despite the potential for inaccuracies, Wehner said the Employment Development Department is getting the most accurate figures it can with the available information. To be 100-percent accurate, a census study would need to be conducted every month and that is time- and cost-prohibitive, Wehner said. Nevertheless, unemployment has gone up “A lot of the unemployment in the Lincoln area has to do with development,” said Bob Romness, CEO of the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce. “Construction workers and landscapers are some of Lincoln’s bigger employers, and as things slowed down related to the construction industry, it did have a ripple effect.” One of those workers who lost his job was Lincoln resident John Fisher, who worked as a plumber until several months ago. “I work in construction, so when that died down, it was tough to find work,” Fisher said. The unemployment problem doesn’t just affect his specialty, Fisher said. “I know a few friends who are electricians and other things, and they can’t find work either,” Fisher said. Fisher summarized today’s job market with a single word – slim. Without promising job prospects, many are turning to assistance-based programs for the first time and they need help navigating them, said Angela Ponivas, executive director of the Lincoln Lighthouse Family Resource and Counseling Center. “Basically, we are seeing more people who are not able to make it to the end of the month,” Ponivas said. “There are more people coming in for gas vouchers and food, and there’s a greater demand for basic needs.” In the past year, those needs have increased by a factor of 35 percent, said Daryl Morales, a family advocate at the Lighthouse. According to Ponivas, one of the biggest problems facing the unemployed is a lack of health-care coverage. To deal with that, Lighthouse staffers are working with residents who qualify for free health -care programs through the state and county. According to Romness, not all the news is bad news. “Obviously, some businesses have closed,” Romness said, “but we’ve also, in recent months, had over 50 new members join the chamber, many of which are brand-new businesses.” And the process is cyclical, Romness noted. “Sometimes we quickly forget that just a few years ago we were the fastest-growing city in the state, and development employed a lot of people,” Romness said. The future, according to Art, will see more light industrial and commercial employment opportunities when the Highway 65 bypass completion makes space near the airport more attractive to businesses. The bypass is slated to be completed in 2012. Some successes have already been realized, including the addition of the Rogers Family Coffee Company’s roasting operation near the airport, which employs several hundred, according to news reports. “Lincoln is still a desirable place to live,” Art said. “We have an educated workforce and when we talk to employers out here, they do not have trouble finding qualified employees.” According to Art, the city is also working with existing businesses to make them stronger, and that regularly scheduled business round-table discussions over the past months have been beneficial to both businesses and the city. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.