Nevada County incomes span wide economic range |

Nevada County incomes span wide economic range

Love what you do, some people say. Book titles advocate readers to do what they love, and don’t worry about the money.

But most people are working for the paycheck.

What people make is something everyone wants to know, but are afraid to ask. We pop the question to co-workers when they’ve had a few drinks after work or are quitting their jobs, to prospective mates as an aside when they’re distracted, to people whose jobs we’ve always admired and fantasize about doing.

“Just curious.”

Hopefully, what people make is more – but the figure is a moving target, perhaps thanks to a strong economy and low unemployment – 3.5 percent in Nevada County last month.

Some economic figures suggest that paychecks may be growing.

The Center for Economic Development in Chico predicts Nevada County’s per capita income will grow 6.2 percent from 1999-2000. That income growth is well above inflation estimates. The consumer price indicator is predicted to increase only 2.53 percent.

Per capita income is predicted to reach $27,994 in 2000, up from $26,391 in 1999.

A researcher from the center declined to comment on incomes and the economic trends that affect them.

The projected wage increase is good news for people who live in anticipation of that paycheck. But some believe Nevada County is still full of low wages and “McJobs,” despite the high-tech companies that spring up here.

Linda Pollock, a Nevada City resident, drives 130 miles round trip to her Sacramento job as a legal secretary.

“There’s an awful lot of people doing what I’m doing,” said Pollock, judging from her daily commute.

Pollock said she has looked for work in Nevada County for years, but could not find anything that paid more than $10 an hour, or $21,000 a year. Pollock said she can remember making $9 an hour for International Business Machines in the 1970s.

In Sacramento, she makes $36,000 a year and has more responsibility.

“I’d love to work up there, but I bite the bullet, do the drive, because (the low pay is) an insult to me,” said Pollock.

For some occupations, it seems as if the strong economy has not had much effect in Nevada County.

A look through current job listings at the Employment Development Department’s New Mohawk Road office shows plenty of jobs available in Grass Valley and Nevada City that pay $6 to $9 an hour, or $12,500 to $19,000 a year. Employers were offering wages in that range for laborers, secretaries, cooks, drivers and cashiers.

Sales clerks, cashiers and laborers had some of the lowest paying jobs listed, with some of the employers offering as little as $6 an hour for these positions, barely above California’s minimum wage of $5.75 an hour.

Except for medical positions – nurses and medical technologists – few of the local jobs listed paid more than $30,000 a year. The job listings are not necessarily a representative listing of pay though, or of the kinds of work available in Nevada County.

A more accurate gauge of salaries is the annual survey compiled by the Golden Sierra Job Training Agency.

Every year, the agency surveys employers in five counties, including Nevada County, in an effort to determine what their employees make and what jobs are in demand.

The survey found that experienced cashiers made $17,000 a year on average in 1999, the lowest of any occupation surveyed that year. That figure assumes they worked a 40-hour week.

In 1999, the survey found that Web masters and software engineers were some of the highest paid workers.

Experienced Web masters, also known as Web developers, averaged $39,000 a year, assuming they worked a 40-hour week. The highest paid developers made $72,000 a year.

Software engineers fared even better, with experienced engineers raking in an average of $60,000 annually. Some made as much as $94,000.

Average annual salaries for other experienced, 40-hour-per-week employees in 1999 included cooks, $21,000; forklift operators, $23,000; office clerks, $23,000; home health aides, $22,000; janitors, $24,000; paralegals, bank tellers, $19,000.

In 1998, the survey found full-time experienced accountants working 40 hours per week made an average of $39,000; carpenters, $42,000; laborers, $18,000; secretaries, $21,000.

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