Laura Woods makes a good living at her job as a forklift driver for a can company in Stanislaus County, where she earned $63,000 last year, a third of which came from overtime.
"I feel fortunate that I have my job. I have benefits, and the wages I make are pretty good," said the 46-year-old from Modesto. "But those types of jobs are disappearing with companies moving overseas. It is scary. Nothing seems secure anymore."
She's not alone in her concern. Workers say they are worried about keeping their jobs during an economically unstable time and with double-digit unemployment in Stanislaus County.
Most people interviewed for "What People Earn," The Bee's version of the annual Parade magazine report in today's paper, say they are pleased with their salary and quality of life in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
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Even though the wages are lower than in the Bay Area, they say, it is enough to live here comfortably.
Many feel grateful just to have a job.
"If you have a job, you are lucky," said
Vita Perez, a work force consultant with Stanislaus County's Alliance Worknet. She counsels job seekers.
"When I have someone coming in that says, 'I have a part-time job and I want to go to full time,' I say to them: Don't quit. That way, at least you won't feel pressured to find work. Keep the job and pursue other avenues or education, but keep your job," Perez said.
Competition for jobs is stiff, she said. Administrative and clerical positions that pay $10 to $18 an hour are among the jobs in highest demand in the region, she said, but for every opening there are dozens of well-qualified applicants.
"Everyone is feeling this crunch right now. It is so important with the unemployment rate at 10.8 percent (in Stanislaus County) for people to look into what skills they have that they can transfer to other areas," said Darlene Smith, rapid response coordinator for the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.
Valley wages rising
Despite recent economic woes, wages are rising in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
The average weekly wage in Stanislaus County last year was $696, or about $36,200 a year, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released last week.
That's about 3 percent higher than the previous year.
In San Joaquin County, wages averaged about $715 a week, or $37,200 a year, marking a 4.1 percent increase.
Merced County was not included in the release.
Salaries are notably higher in the Bay Area, where the average weekly wages in three counties are ranked among the top 10 in the nation.
Santa Clara County was No. 1 at $1,585 a week, or $82,420 annually, San Mateo County was fifth at $1,322 a week, and San Francisco County was in the No. 8 spot at $1,286.
Those wages are why a number of valley residents choose to continue commuting to the Bay Area for work, despite high gas prices.
Patterson resident Scott Raley commutes about 190 miles round-trip every day to his job as a foreman and carpenter in Daly City in San Mateo County. His annual income is $80,000.
"My wages would be cut drastically if I worked in the Central Valley," said Raley, 40.
Still, there are plenty of occupations in high demand in Stanislaus County that provide solid wages, said Perez and Smith.
Maintenance mechanics who work in factories or industrial operations are continually sought, they said. Those jobs typically start at about $15 an hour.
Truck driving is another good bet.
"Even with high gas prices, there are still truck companies who need drivers," Perez said. "They are getting hired right after training. Entry-level, long-haul jobs can pay $35,000 to 40,000 a year with benefits."
Health care can be a good bet
The need for licensed vocational nurses, registered nurses and in-home caregivers is booming along with an aging population, Perez and Smith said.
The median salary for LVNs is $45,499 a year, and registered nurses earn about $75,655 a year, according to the state Employment Development Department.
But there's no guarantee a health care job will be available. Some students have found that after they complete expensive training in medical and dental assisting, there aren't any positions, Perez said.
Sometimes, however, the right mix of wage, location and work environment come together.
Second-year teacher Desirae Sutton, 24, says she is happy with her salary and living in the valley. The Hughson resident is a kindergarten teacher at Don Pedro Elementary in Ceres.
She earns about $42,000 a year.
"I like the area and the atmos-phere in Ceres and Modesto," she said. "It is still the hometown feeling, where you know the students. You see them at stores and talk to their parents."
A single mother of young twins, Sutton said she can provide well for her children.
"I'm still making a great living for me and my family," she said.
JEFF EARL, 48, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Custodian for Yosemite Community College District
ANNUAL SALARY: $38,000
EXPERIENCE: He started working as a custodian after college at 19.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Culinary degree from Leeward Community College in Hawaii, 1978
QUOTE: "At that time in Modesto, it paid more to be a custodian than a chef at a local restaurant, so I applied for an opening and have worked there since."
MIKE MOON, 52, OAKDALE
OCCUPATION: Office manager for The Speech Path, a speech pathology company in Modesto
ANNUAL SALARY: $34,000
EXPERIENCE: He has worked in medical billing and credit collections since 1984. He joined The Speech Path a year ago.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Bachelor's degree in political science from San Jose State University
QUOTE: "We moved here in 1995, when jobs were scarce and want ads were thin. I thought wages were low because we came from Los Angeles. But over the years, they have gotten better percentage-wise and the wages are keeping up. ... It is very reasonable."
RAYANNE TAMAYO, 42, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Office manager at a charter school in Stockton
ANNUAL SALARY: $39,000
EXPERIENCE: She previously worked as a teacher at Modesto Christian High School.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Associate degree in marketing management and a bachelor's degree in history
QUOTE: "The few jobs that do pay well -- for the city, county or public schools -- are very hard to get, and have hundreds of applicants for one position. ... I am quite thankful to say that I am very secure in my job with the threat of a recession coming."
CLYDE SIMPSON SR., 79, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Retired from the military, does small handyman jobs
ANNUAL SALARY: $24,000
EXPERIENCE: Spent 14 years in the armed services
QUOTE: "My wife taught preschool, and I get retirement from the military. Our kids are all moved out, so we're doing all right."
HAMID SHIRVANI, 57, TURLOCK
OCCUPATION: President of California State University, Stanislaus
ANNUAL SALARY: $270,000
EXPERIENCE: Former provost of Chapman University in Orange County. Also worked at colleges in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and California
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Earned a bachelor's degree in architecture in London; earned two master's degrees in New York, then earned another from Harvard University; earned his Ph.D. in 1980 from Princeton University
QUOTE: "My parents taught me to value education, not money. Serving the students at the university makes for a very rewarding career."
JOANNA MANSFIELD, 25, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Office manager at furniture store
ANNUAL SALARY: $27,000
EXPERIENCE: Eighteen months
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Started at store as a temp
QUOTE: "I want to make more, but who doesn't? I can make it here in Modesto, but I'm planning to move to the Bay Area soon, and there I'll need more."
LISA GOTELLI, 44, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Owner of advertising agency
ANNUAL SALARY: Depends, averages about $90,000
EXPERIENCE: She worked in advertising 16 years and has had own agency for 2½ months.
QUOTE: "I've worked at other agencies before, and I've learned you really have to be able to get along with people, especially everyone at a company."
STEPHEN GOREE, 23, CERES
OCCUPATION: IT worker for County Bank
ANNUAL SALARY: $28,000
EXPERIENCE: Five months
EDUCATION/TRAINING: He spent four years in the Army and worked at the National Security Agency.
QUOTE: "I love my job, so the money doesn't bother me too much. I have a great job."
GREG NYHOFF, 48, FOUNTAIN, COLO.
OCCUPATION: Will take over as city manager of Modesto starting June 1
ANNUAL SALARY: $195,000
EXPERIENCE: Assistant city manager, Colorado Springs, Colo.; city manager, Fountain, Colo.; city manager, Montague, Mich.; operations manager at Highlands Ranch Metropolitan District near Denver
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Bachelor's in business administration and economics from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.; training at professional conferences and a course with the Center for Creative Leadership
QUOTE: "We, as a family, believe there is great opportunity in California. When I came to Modesto, I was very impressed with the downtown, and there are a lot of attractive neighborhoods."
WILL PATTERSON, 26, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Salesman at the Shoe Box in Vintage Faire Mall
ANNUAL SALARY: $28,500
EXPERIENCE: He has worked in customer service jobs since age 16, and has been with Shoe Box for four years.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Full-time student at Modesto Junior College studying broadcast and radio communications. Has an associate of science degree in criminal justice
QUOTE: "They are a family-owned business that takes good care of their employees. They give you ample opportunity to work with your school schedule. It is one of those things that works out really well."
LAURA WOODS, 46, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Forklift driver for Ball Western Can Co. in Oakdale
ANNUAL SALARY: $63,000
EXPERIENCE: She has worked at Ball for 20 years in several positions. She previously worked for Tri Valley Growers.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: On-the-job training
QUOTE: "It really saddens my heart, because the American worker will sooner or later be expected to accept a major wage cut or the company will move its operations out of the country. This doesn't just affect the Central Valley, but the whole nation."
DESIRAE SUTTON, 24, HUGHSON
OCCUPATION: Kindergarten teacher at Don Pedro Elementary in Ceres Unified School District
ANNUAL SALARY: $42,078
EXPERIENCE: Hired directly after college
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Bachelor's degree in liberal studies from California State University, Stanislaus; teaching credential and student teaching experience
QUOTE: "The wages are great. I love the district that I work for, and you can't put a price on that. ... I'm a single mother of twins, and I can provide for me and them quite well."
LARRY DEHART, 48, TURLOCK
OCCUPATION: Custodian with the city of Modesto
ANNUAL SALARY: $30,400
EXPERIENCE: He worked as a custodian for two years. He is a Navy veteran who also has worked for Bronco Wine Co. and Wal-Mart.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: High school diploma
QUOTE: "I feel that I make a good wage with the city of Modesto. It is the most money I have ever earned. Overall, wages in the Central Valley are below the national average."
MICKEY O'DELL, 47, RIPON
OCCUPATION: Manager of Almond Blossom Self Storage in Ripon
ANNUAL SALARY: $18,000
EXPERIENCE: He was a manager at Tower Park Resort near Lodi, assistant manager at Goodwill Industries, and took calls at American Medical Response.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: High school
QUOTE: "I also get the one-bedroom apartment upstairs. With the gas prices as they are, it's a good thing to live where I work, or else I'd be spending all my money on gas."
ROLF JOHNSEN, 56, MODESTO
OCCUPATION: Supply chain integration specialist at Sharpe Defense Depot, Lathrop, a civilian job that involves administering Air Force contracts
ANNUAL SALARY: $93,000
EXPERIENCE: He has had other jobs with the Defense Department, including quality assurance specialist and manufacturing operations coordinator.
EDUCATION/TRAINING: Training in aviation electronics while serving in the Marines; further training at Memphis State Technical Institute, College of San Mateo and DeAnza College
QUOTE: "I'd say it's fairly good pay ... (The job) "ensures that the taxpayer is getting what the taxpayer is paying for."
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-4574.