The Local Economy: Finding the Bright Spots


Like ice pellets pounding on the window of your life, the grim news comes daily—a cold, endless storm.

Unemployment hits 10.4 percent in the Sacramento region and continues to climb. State workers are furloughed as leaders scramble to fill the state’s $40 billion hole. Seemingly “safe” city and county jobs are suddenly subject to layoffs, while program cuts and hiring freezes abound. And if you’re in the most-vulnerable-of-all private sector, good luck: Even those who dodge pink slips may face a smorgasbord of slashes, from salaries to pension plans (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

Experts say the economy hasn’t been this bad since World War II—or 1931, depending on who you ask.
No one disputes that things are bound to get worse before they get better. But talk to locals and you’ll hear a story that, while mostly dark, has some bright spots here and there.

The darkest spots: construction, retail, leisure and hospitality, and finance—industries that, in that order, accounted for most
of the 22,400 jobs lost in the four-county region in 2008, according to state Employment Development Department figures.
And the picture doesn’t get any prettier in 2009, with jobs continuing to shed at an accelerated pace in nearly all sectors.

But while no one’s talking about it much, there is some good news, too.

The big winner? You guessed it: health care, part of the larger category of educational and health services and still the strongest sector in the region, according to Ryan Sharp, director of the Sacramento Regional Research Institute.

“It’s not as strong as it was in the past,” cautions Sharp. But health care is still producing the most jobs of any
sector, he says, and is expected to continue to create jobs moving forward.

That’s great news for nurses and dental assistants—maybe not so much for the rest of us. But perhaps you’ll find comfort in this: Local recruiters say there are still jobs, even for those whose skill sets don’t include giving shots, drawing blood or X-raying teeth. “I believe anybody can get a job right now,” says Jenny Beard, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Roseville. “It just depends on how flexible you’re willing to be.” In this economy, that might mean taking a job outside your field or accepting a sizable salary cut—with a smile.

On the other hand, bankruptcy attorneys—their businesses typically soar when the economy tanks—probably don’t have much to worry about. One local attorney, Richard Allaye-Chan, reports he’s had to increase his staff by about 50 percent since the recession hit—all because bankruptcy filings are up.

Business is booming, though he’d prefer not to use that word. “The term booming implies we’re enjoying profiting off of people’s problems, and we’re not,” says Allaye-Chan. “It’s not a happy thing to talk to people who are in dire straits and need to file bankruptcy.” But, he admits, things are definitely busy and “the economy has driven it—the downfall of the housing market,
the credit crunch and the loss of jobs.”

Other silver linings exist in unexpected places.

While many area arts organizations struggle to survive, Suspects Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, a local institution for 20 years, continues to sell out shows.

“I’m almost afraid to say anything—I don’t want to jinx it,” says Paul Waterman, Suspects’ founder. On a recent Saturday night, when 180 tickets sold for the theatre’s 150-seat room aboard the Delta King, Waterman found himself with a good problem: what to do about the extra 30 ticket holders? His solution: Throw them a private show. “I feel blessed, like I’m just waiting for the show to drop,” says Waterman. “What’s happening to other people could easily happen to us.”

Even where bus-iness is hurting, good things can come from it, says Sanjay Varshney, Ph.D., a financial analyst and dean of Sacramento State’s College of Business Administration. “Sometimes it’s good in terms of eliminating weaker business models,” he says.

John Cook, a partner in several prominent local restaurants including Scott’s Seafood and Malabar, agrees.
“Lean times make you a leaner and probably a more efficient operation,” he says. Business is down by about 20 to 30 percent, says Cook, which he reckons is pretty much the same industry-wide. While he’s had to lay off some staff, the result is that his remaining crew works more tightly together, and that’s a good thing. Plus, workers aren’t likely to quit in a recession—a huge bonus in the typically transient restaurant biz.

Another positive amid the negatives: affordable housing.

“With foreclosure activity driving prices down, Sacramento has again become one of the most affordable regions in the state,” says SRRI’s Sharp, adding that nearly 60 percent of the region’s homes sold in the third quarter of 2008 were bought by residents with median incomes.

“We’re hoping to see a floor in the market sometime late this year,” Sac State’s Varshney says. He’s not suggesting that things will bounce back immediately but that there will be a “leveling off.”

Varshney is less optimistic about the area’s unemployment rate, however, which he expects will continue to rise, with the most bloodshed through the second quarter of 2009.
Still, he’s hopeful that local recovery may start by the end of 2009 or early 2010, which is sooner than some
experts are saying.

In times like these, it’s important to remember that history is a teacher, that everything is cyclical and to take a philosophical view, Varshney advises.

“These are business cycles, and there will always be business cycles,” he says. “The good news is what goes down
comes back up again. This economic cycle will reverse itself in time.”



These are the top 10 paying jobs in the Sacramento metro area, according to the state Employment Development Department.*

Family and general practitioners: $140,408

Social sciences teachers, postsecondary: $137,054

Anesthesiologists: $131,158

Chief executives    $126,702

Dentists, general    $125,169

Elevator installers and repairers: $119,594

Pharmacists: $119,560

Computer and information sciences researchers: $116,473

Engineering managers: $114,713

Electrical and electronics repairers, commercial and Industrial equipment: $111,853

* Salaries reflect 2008 median wages and are based on the most current information available.


HOT JOB TIP—Worried your résumé will be lost in the shuffle when it’s submitted online? Double up by sending a copy via snail mail—and include a handwritten note, suggests Jenny Beard, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Rose-ville. “If that was on your desk with 300 other résumés, wouldn’t that stand out for you?” asks Beard. Job seekers should also send thank-you notes after every interview, she adds. “It may make all the difference.”



You’ve probably already heard that it takes forever to get through if you file for unemployment by phone, leading to our first tip: File online. (It’s easy: Just go to and click the link that says “File a Claim for Unemployment”.)

What else? Here are a few basics from, the Employment Development Department of California’s website.
To qualify for unemployment, you must be out of work due to no fault of your own. (Job quitters are outta luck.) You must also be actively looking for work.

Your benefit amount is based on a 12-month period. In a nutshell, the quarter in which you earned the most money determines the amount of your weekly “benefit”—i.e., how much money you’ll get. But just how much, you ask?  Check out the unemployment insurance benefit table at

Typically, California workers are eligible for up to 26 weeks of benefits. But due to new legislation, eligible workers may receive up to an additional 33 weeks of federal benefits. 

If you received severance, you are required to report it when you file your claim. But severance pay is not deducted from unemployment benefits and does not affect your ability to receive them.

For more information, visit Or, if you’re the patient sort, call the EDD at (800) 300-5616 for English
or (800) 326-8937 for Spanish.  



Looking to earn $40K or more? These jobs are expected to have the most openings in the four-county region through 2016, according to data compiled by the state Employment Development Department.* For more information on these and other occupations, visit

General and Operations Managers: $96,642

Registered Nurses: $83,935

Computer Systems Analysts: $73,926

Public Secondary School Teachers (except special and vocational education): $59,970

Accountants and Auditors: $57,454

Public Middle School Teachers (except special and vocational education): $57,068

Public Elementary School Teachers (except special education): $56,391

First-Line Supervisors and Managers of Office and Administrative Support Workers: $54,555

Carpenters: $52,350

Executive Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: $41,987

* Published October 2008. EDD advises that projections are just one planning tool and are based on the most current information available at the time of the forecast. Projection totals reflect new jobs and replacement openings.



In times like these, any salary is better than no salary. But most folks are still curious about what the other guy makes. So we’ve assembled a few numbers.


Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor $0  (His annual salary is $212,179,
but he reportedly doesn’t accept it.)
John Garamendi, Lieutenant Governor: $159,134
Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., Attorney General: $184,301
Debra Bowen, Secretary of State: $159,134
John Chiang, Controller: $169,743
Bill Lockyer, Treasurer: $169,743
Steve Poizner, Insurance Commissioner: $169,743

Salaries effective through Dec. 4, 2009.    
Source: California Department of Personnel Administration (



Dave Cox,Legislator (Senate): $110,880
Doug Yoakam, Legislative Director for Sen. Cox: $98,880
Kirk Cowgill , Office Assistant for Sen. Cox: $39,504
Dave Cogdill, Legislator (Assembly): $99,000
Paula Abney, Office Assistant for Sen. Cogdill: $21,720
Jack Scott, Legislator (Senate): $110,880
Maria Acosta, Executive Assistant for Sen. Scott: $49,344

Salaries reflect most recently reported figures.


Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento: $116,646
Kunal Merchant, Chief of Staff: $110,635
Chris Young, Special Assistant and Senior Adviser: $100,000
Lisa Serna-Mayorga, Council Operations Manager: $76,000
Sarah Z’berg, Executive Assistant: $54,995
Daniel Lopez, Scheduler: $48,000
Charlita Anderson, Staff Assistant (part time): $24,000

Source: City of Sacramento, February 2009


Kevin Martin: $10,180,170
Kenny Thomas: $8,553,125
Andres Nocioni: $7,500,000
Mikki Moore: $6,212,960
Beno Udrih: $6,077,500
Francisco Garcia: $5,800,000
Spencer Hawes: $2,332,800

Salaries for 2009–2010 Source:

Note: The glass ceiling still exists—even when you’re tall enough to crack it. Though team policy prevents the release of individual salaries, a Sacramento Monarchs spokesperson reports that WNBA players make a minimum of $35,190 and a maximum of $97,000—a mere smidge of what their male counterparts in the NBA earn.

Oscar Bejarano, Teacher, Granite Adult School at California State Prison, Sacramento: $97,700 a year  (before state furlough)

Celia Boutiette, Cashier, Sunrise Natural Foods: $8.50 an hour

DC Goode, Voice-over Talent: $75,000 a year

Scott Gregory, Letter Carrier, U.S. Postal Service: $53,684 a year

Marie Humble, Baby Sitter: $15 an hour

Steve Jones, Sales Consultant, California Family Fitness: $85,000 a year

Elizabeth Lopez-Liles, Boutique Owner/Model: $7,200 a year

Briana McGee, Sales Associate/Model: $800 a month

Kristin Mick, Editor, UC Davis Extension: $41,800 a year (35-hour week)

Jessika Morrison, Recreation Leader, Fulton-El Camino Recreation & Park District: $8.25 an hour

Rachna Prasad, Parking Assistant and X-ray Tech Student Intern, UC Davis Medical Center: $22,000 a year

Sanita Reinholde, Call Center Supervisor, Verizon Wireless: $53,000 a year

Savannah Rodriguez, Receptionist, Spanish Fly Hair Garage: $10 an hour

Joey Stogsdill, Box Office Cashier, Cinemark Century Stadium 14 Theatre: $8 an hour

Kenda Sawhill, Vice President, Spectrum Solid Surfacing: $38,500 a year

Julie Williams, Voice-over Talent: $350 an hour



ELIZABETH WENDT, 47, certified music practitioner, Kaiser Permanente North Valley

SALARY: Less than $30,000

THE JOB: A longtime local harpist and teacher, Wendt provides music-based healing by playing bedside for the ill and dying and those recovering from surgery. Most of her work takes place at Kaiser, where she serves as coordinator of the Healing Music Program, but she occasionally makes house calls.

Why she chose this profession: “Music is an amazing healing tool. People respond emotionally, biologically and chemically to the vibrations of live music. There is a great sense of human connection when I come into people’s lives at these vulnerable times to offer healing and comfort. I knew it was the right avenue to pursue—musically and humanly.”

Rewards: “Helping someone who is in pain or just seeing the look of appreciation from someone who hasn’t had a visitor all day.”

On choosing love over money: “I hope someday to have passion and a paycheck, but in the meantime, knowing I am helping people in a very profound way and witnessing the changes they go through when I am playing for them is worth gold.”


VINCENT HORIUCHI, 21, break-dance instructor and performer

SALARY: Less than $30,000

THE JOB: Yes, he’s young—but Vincent Horiuchi is also self-supporting, paying not only the rent but all of his other bills while pursuing his mission: to provide a better life for kids through dance. In addition to teaching break dancing in local dance studios, community centers and after-school programs, Horiuchi teaches emotionally disturbed and physically impaired young people through VSA arts (formerly Very Special Arts). He also holds fundraisers for such nonprofits as Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and Wind Youth Services.

Why he chose this profession: “Seeing kids go from thinking they are incapable of learning a couple of moves to knowing they are capable of achieving any of their goals in life—that’s why I teach.”

Rewards: “If not for my students, I would have lost my drive to continue dancing. I also feel that a lot of these kids look to me for guidance. I can’t let them down.”

On choosing love over money: “Doing what I love and making a difference in the lives of others is much more fulfilling than making money. I’ve always found that money never brings happiness. It almost seems that the more money you get, the more stressed and unhappy you get.”


MARY LAUGHLIN, 60, chief development officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Sacramento

SALARY: Less than $55,000

THE JOB: A one-person department, Mary Laughlin’s job includes raising funds through special
events, building community partnerships, and finding and writing grants.

Why she chose this profession: “The sum of all my childhood experiences led me to it. It was just natural that I would end up in a job where passion for helping others was required. It all came together for me in the nonprofit world.”

Rewards: “Knowing at the end of each day that what I did made a difference in someone’s life keeps me going. I will never forget the teenager who told me that having a Big Brother gave him a ‘second chance at doing life right,’ or the single mother who was raising five children and said what we did restored her faith in humanity. Those are the moments that fuel the passion.”

On choosing love over money: “My parents set the bar high for me and really instilled in me that money is not the end game but that doing something that matters is. Giving back to others is not just an option—it is the right thing to do.”


KATIE SILVA , 57, marriage and family therapist intern

SALARY: Less than $35,000

THE JOB: As she works toward becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist, Katie Silva helps people
with a wide range of issues, from mental illness to substance abuse/dependency to domestic violence.

Why she chose this profession: “Nothing is more humbling than to be allowed into another person’s life of pain, participate in their healing process, and watch the miracles. I would not be here today if others had not done this for me.”

Rewards: “Nothing helps me more to wake up to my own shortcomings and character defects than the warmth of another human trying to ‘be’ in difficult times.”

On choosing love over money: “I came from a generation of ‘Just do it, you don’t have to like it—just think of the benefits!’ I worked for years in jobs that had great benefits and good money but left me feeling useless and empty. I believed that there had to be more to life than money, and these thoughts took me on my own healing process.”