An ad run by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce in last Monday’s Daily Sentinel featured this headline, designed to make local employers drool. After all, from a business owner’s standpoint, what could be better than employees you don’t have to pay? At one time this was called “slavery,” but let’s not let that little detail sidetrack us.
The ad was about a Mesa County Workforce on-the-job training program in which the Workforce picks up 50-90% of the employees’ wages for a set period of time, so employees can get experience and training. Once you get past the Chamber’s demeaning headline, the program sounds great, but this really seems like entirely the wrong way to promote it. The ad’s headline is a slap to local workers and the thousands of low-wage earners in Mesa County.
Things are hard for working families in Mesa County. A living hourly wage for a family of two working adults and two children in Mesa County is $15.02/hour, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the average per capita hourly wage in Mesa County is just $12.83/hour. Workers in Mesa County on average earn 85% of what others in the state earn, and almost 15% of Mesa County citizens live below poverty level, compared to 13.2% for the state as a whole. To make things worse, local elected officials reject out of hand new economic opportunities literally laid at our feet — like making the Colorado National Monument into a national park, and participating in the growing and prosperous marijuana industry — that could greatly help lift Mesa County’s long-suffering economy.
The only time Diane Schwenke, president of the G.J. Chamber, promised to bring good-paying jobs to town was in 2013, when she urged voters to approve a ballot measure to uphold light industrial zoning for the Brady Trucking property by Las Colonias Park, down by the Colorado River. Schwenke promised that if citizens kept the industrial zoning, Brady Trucking would bring a slew of jobs to the area that would pay $70,000 a year. She promised Brady would also build a landscaped trail along the Colorado River to boot.
If it sounded too good to be true, it’s because it was.
Voters listened to Schwenke and passed the measure, but the jobs never came. Neither did the trails. In fact, absolutely nothing happened, and today the land sits exactly as it was back then — vacant, with crumbling buildings and a pile of debris along the waterfront.
Many people would rather see the G.J. Chamber promote better wages and benefits for hard working people in Mesa County instead of tacitly promoting low wages and exploitation of workers, as in the above ad headline. If working people in Mesa County earned living wages and had good benefits, they’d be able to spend more locally and lift up the local economy. Fewer District 51 children would have to go hungry and maybe we’d have fewer medically indigent people and less homelessness. This would be far preferable to the rush to the bottom and slave wages that people have long suffered with here under the current political regimes.