Income gap no major surprise to local workers

Bebe Strader works the busy lunch counter at a downtown Kingman sandwich shop.

She takes orders over the phone and in person, brings orders to tables, cleans tables when customers leave and, on occasion, prepares sandwiches.

Strader, who has worked at the deli for several years, is supporting herself and raising a 15-year-old son on her modest income.

Strader did not seem surprised by a 2000 census report that the income gap in Mohave County widened the most of any Arizona county since 1990.

"I agree with that," she said.

"It's true.

You bet.

There is no such thing as a happy medium in terms of rich or poor.

It's either rich or poor (here).

I'm basically in poverty."

Strader said the working poor need more support in terms of social services, such as wider availability of medical insurance and child care.

Based on 1999 incomes, the U.S.

Census Bureau determined the following median annual incomes in Mohave County: households, $31,521; families, $36,311; and per capita, $16,788.

In Mohave County, 24 percent of children younger than 18, 7.7 percent of seniors age 65 and older and 9.8 percent of families were living at the poverty level when the Census Bureau conducted the survey.

The county's population according to the 2000 census was 155,032.

Statewide, the median income figures are $40,558 per household, $46,723 for families and $20,275 per capita.

Poverty figures are 18.8 percent for children, 8.4 percent for seniors and 9.9 percent for families.

The 2002 federal poverty levels are $369 per month for one person, $498, for two, $626 for three, $754 for four, $883 for five, $1,011 for six, $1,139 for seven, $1,268 for eight, $1,396 for nine and $1,525 for 10 people in a household.

One factor that tends to depress pay is the fact that Arizona is a right-to-work state, said Jerry Ambrose, office manager for the Arizona Department of Economic Security in Kingman.

Ambrose said another factor for the income gap is that building trades and other occupations with lower skill or education levels tend to pay more in metropolitan areas such as Phoenix and Las Vegas.

"And we have to educate the employers so we can start keeping our talent," Ambrose said.

"I have no idea (how).

That is not my responsibility.

It has to be done from within."

Ambrose's office provides a list of job openings in the Kingman, Bullhead City/Laughlin and Lake Havasu City areas and their pay scales.

Examples of current openings and their hourly wages in Kingman are: security guards, $9; cashiers, $6.50; field trainer, $13.70; truss assembler, $7; equipment operator, $12; customer service representative, $10; bus driver, $5.75; and fitness instructor, $8.78.

The job service office on Pine Street draws a number of job seekers daily.

Unemployed people and those looking for better jobs also flock to the Mohave County government building on Beale Street, where jobs are posted on the second floor outside the Human Resources Department.

Clint Hervey, a union iron worker who moved to Kingman recently from San Diego, scanned the job listings Thursday afternoon.

"I can see that everything pays quite a bit less than the San Diego area," Hervey said.

Hervey said he has earned about $30 an hour in the past but does not want to limit himself by seeking a specified wage.

"I could go to Las Vegas to work," Hervey said.

"I don't want to drive over there."

He said he is adjusting to the lifestyle in Kingman and moved here because of the mild climate and to get away from big-city congestion.

Alicia Herrbach, a chiropractic assistant from Bullhead City, showed up to the county building Friday morning to fill out an application and take a test for Office Proficiency Assessment and Certification, OPAC for short.

Herrbach said she enjoys her current job but is looking for one that pays better and offers benefits.

A single mother, she said she receives child care assistance through the Department of Economic Security for a daughter who turns 3 in November.

"For a lot of people, it is hard to get a job," Herrbach said.