State of the City

Mayor Robert Rickman presents unemployment statistics during his State of the City address March 21 at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts.

The political debate and city goals surrounding the search for high-paying jobs in Tracy are a daily reality for many locals who have to leave town to find a wage that allows them to live here.

The availability of jobs in town was one of the lowest-rated elements of a public survey late last year. Only 16 percent of the 1,500 people who responded to the National Citizen Survey, conducted in November and December, saw job opportunities in Tracy as excellent or good, and 60 percent said they commuted away from home every day.

For working father Jason Lynn, commuting has been his routine since he moved to Tracy in 1990.

“Right now, I’m working at Palo Alto. My trip on the road is an hour and 20 minutes in the morning and could be two and half hours on the way home,” Lynn said Tuesday. “I get up at 2:50 in the morning and I leave my house at 4 o’clock in the morning. I sometimes don’t get home until 6 o’clock in the evening. So the quality of the life is not there anymore because everyone has to commute.”

The long commute is also an issue for Suzie Tomlinson, a 30-year-old mother of a 9-month-old who’s trying to finish school and get her bachelor’s degree.

“My commute is from Tracy to Dublin, … anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes depending on if there’s an incident. It’s been as bad as three hours before,” she said Tuesday. “(I’m) working on finishing my degree. I’m not too far from it. But, you know, when you spend hours commuting, it’s kind of hard to focus on studying.”

Both Lynn and Tomlinson agree with the 47 percent of the people in the survey who said Tracy is a “poor” place for job opportunities.

“I have a baby at home, so I would jump on the opportunity to work here in Tracy,” Tomlinson said. “(But) it just seems like, to me, wages for comparable jobs is just way too different. The same job in Tracy pays about 25 percent to 50 percent less than in the Tri-Valley or Bay Area. And that’s a very, very big difference, and it makes a huge difference at the end of the month when you’re trying to pay all your bills.”

Melissa Simpson, a 53-year-old mother who commutes to Pleasanton for her job as a contract analyst at a software company, earns the only income for her family. She said the jobs she would need to provide for her family are not available to her in Tracy.

“I’ve lived here since 1998 and I have only ever worked in Tracy once during that time, and it was for very little money. So the reality is the jobs that pay a livable wage just aren’t here,” she said. “I’ve been in the high-tech industry for 20-plus years. And so those jobs just don’t exist here. … I applied for a job at the police department once, but the salary was so low, there was no way we could afford to live on that.”

For those looking for employment, San Joaquin County WorkNet has a branch in Tracy offering a variety of services to job seekers to help them find employment in a variety of kinds of jobs. Employers can place job orders at WorkNet to find applicants for their unfilled positions.

Brian Williams, a case manager and employment specialist over at WorkNet, has a much different view of the job market than many residents of Tracy.

“We have a lot of job orders and we seem to have a shortage of applicants, because the employers are constantly putting out new orders and we don’t have enough people to fill them.”

Williams, when asked if there were head-of-household jobs in Tracy and around the area, said he thought so.

“With FedEx and Medline offering $14 to start and the company in Lathrop offering $16, it can be. Absolutely,” he said.

But both the survey results and Lynn disagreed with Williams on that.

“What is the highest-paid person at Amazon? Average employee, $20 an hour,” the commuting father said. “If you think about it, $20 an hour is only what, $500 a week? And then, after you take your taxes away, what did you get — $400? That’s $1,600 on a four-week month. That’s not enough to pay rent.”

On March 21, the City Council put a number on just how much someone should make in Tracy for a head-of-household job — $72,000.

That number — and the definition of what it means — had long been elusive, with different elected and appointed city leaders offering their own opinions. The city arrived at the figure by calculating the cost of food, child care, transportation and the cost to own a $450,000 home in Tracy — with two adults working.

“It’s an important question for the council,” City Manager Troy Brown said in an interview Feb. 28. “Jobs is important, because to build a self-sustaining community, you really want to be able to live, work, play and ultimately raise a family in our community.”

At that time, Brown suggested that a head-of-household job was one that earned a salary higher than the median household income for the county — $53,000, according to United States Census statistics in 2015. But Tracy is at the higher end of the county calculation. The median household income within the city, according to the Census, is $76,000.

According to a 2016 study from the University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy Research, Tracy’s cost of living is 24 percent higher than the national average — about $69,000 for two working parents.

Mayor Robert Rickman talked with the Tracy Press after his State of the City address on March 21. His plan for job seekers is to make the city friendlier to businesses.

“Yeah, the trickle-down is one of the things,” he said, referring to providing jobs by providing business opportunities to employers. “If you create an atmosphere of efficiency, accountability, more businesses will come. If you’re an easy city to work with, your fees are low and you’re competitive, businesses will come here.”

Rickman said seeking not just jobs but head-of-household jobs was one of his chief concerns.

“I would like to see jobs that you can pay a mortgage with and raise a family of four. I want to see a job with benefits,” he said. “Even two-income families, head-of-household jobs — let’s say $70,000 a year, and two people work, that’s $140,000 a year. That’s a good number.”

Rickman said the city could help people who are out of work now by connecting them with businesses looking for workers — but the jobs are out there to find.

“We do have jobs. Medline’s hired. Amazon’s hired. Small businesses are hiring,” he said.

However, Rickman also dismissed the quality of industrial jobs in town.

“We need to get higher wages than what we have here currently,” Rickman said. “A large majority of them aren’t (head-of-household jobs). A lot of them are $15-an-hour jobs. I’m not saying all of them are, because you do have exceptions. You have management positions in these big facilities, but they are few and far between.”

The mayor said he was aiming higher.

“We’re targeting all businesses, but we’re specifically targeting high tech — the higher-paying jobs,” Rickman said.

From Lynn’s perspective, the city should be trying something different to entice high-tech businesses to Tracy.

“Well, No. 1, the solution would be for the city of Tracy to get some sort of college there. Without a college — community college or UC system — you’re not going to get the high-tech jobs out there,” Lynn said. “You need the education and then the jobs follow all the time. If you look at how the Bay Area sits — Santa Clara University, Stanford University, San Jose State, East Bay. All of these major colleges are in the center of high-tech development. It’s everywhere. Because if you need a person, you can go over to the school and recruit people. So there is no way the city of Tracy is ever going to get $100,000-a-year jobs by building nothing but warehouses.”

Contact Michael Ellis Langley at mlangley@tracypress.com or 830-4231.

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