NextGen of Working Californians An op-ed by Todd Stevens in the Bakersfield Californian

NextGen of Working Californians

Labor Day is a time for all Californians to appreciate the contributions of working people, and ensure that we are doing everything we can so that the next generation of California workers can earn a livable wage and provide for their families.

Jobs and the economy must be at the forefront of our politics, and our state’s next set of leaders should be focused on supporting good jobs that offer a pathway to the middle class.

That is particularly true in the Central Valley, which has lagged behind other parts of the state in job creation and growth. Too often, policies made in Sacramento are crafted to benefit coastal communities, while those in the heart of the state are an afterthought, or left behind completely.

The Central Valley’s rich history of oil and gas production has helped power our growing economy, enhanced and enriched our lives in ways most don’t recognize and provided good, honest careers. Oil production in the San Joaquin Valley accounts for more than 52,000 jobs, and generates more than $23 billion in business sales, according to research conducted by economists at Cal State University, Fresno.

We are on the heels of a dramatic revolution in our society. We are transitioning from the heavily industrial economy of the 20th century to one where the technology and service sectors are dramatically expanding. This shift has created exciting new opportunities, but has also led to division within our society. Too often, those in high-wage tech jobs are able to live by one set of standards, while many new jobs in the expanding service sector barely provide a living wage.

This new economy tends to fracture along regional ethnic lines as well, with Latinos, African Americans and other diverse groups disproportionately stuck with service jobs, and left out of the high-wage tech jobs. While coastal cities are booming, inland areas of California lag behind on everything from job creation to wage growth.

Our industry continues to offer a pathway for many people who do not have college degrees or are otherwise at risk of being left behind in the new economy. It continues to be a way for thousands of workers who are not pursuing higher education to earn a good living wage, have a career and provide for their families.

And as the demographics of California have changed, the make-up of our workforce – unlike some other higher-wage industries – has changed along with it. Nearly one-third of the oil and gas workforce is Latino. For example, in the tech industry, a driver of high-wage jobs, that number is just 7 percent.

So this Labor Day, and every day, let’s focus on California’s workers who contribute so much to our economy and society and who are still working to get their piece of the California Dream.

Change has also been dramatic in the energy sector. Californians have moved away from coal-based power to new energy sources, including natural gas and renewables. In addition, better technology and workplace practices have allowed us to continue to produce oil in ways that offer unparalleled levels of safety and protection for workers, the environment and our local communities. Through these advances we have rolled back greenhouse gas emissions and sustained our quality of life while growing our economy. We should remember however that every policy proposal delivers benefits and costs, and we cannot dismiss the impact of policies that artificially raise the price of daily necessities on millions of Californians who struggle to make ends meet.

A diverse, local energy supply is central to sustaining a vibrant, inclusive society. We need an economic agenda that rewards workers and promotes their quality of life, as well as the environment. Too often, public policies are made with an all-or-nothing approach. In order to address all or nothing agendas without creating energy poverty, we must work together on a common-sense discussion. One that sustains local energy sources, combined with a local workforce, that benefits all Californians and still enables us to achieve our ambitious environmental goals.

So this Labor Day, and every day, let’s focus on California’s workers who contribute so much to our economy and society and who are still working to get their piece of the California Dream. Their families deserve the good jobs and the ladder to the middle class that California’s oil and gas companies provide.

Todd Stevens is the president and chief executive officer for California Resources Corporation, the largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production company in California.

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