After the Base Closes, It's Tough Out There
For Civilians Who Lost Jobs in East Bay Military Downsizing Since 1993, Finding Comparable Work is No Easy Task, According to New Report from IURD
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
For the civilians once employed at six San Francisco Bay Area military bases slated for closure starting in 1993, private sector jobs are hard to come by, the report found, and tend to pay significantly less than these workers' former jobs.
The civilians who fared best, it said, were those who found a position at another military base - although more than half who secured federal jobs were forced to relocate outside the Bay Area.
The report, "Employment Analysis of East Bay Military Base Civilian Employees," was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission (EBCRC). Its authors are Josh Kirschenbaum, director of special projects at IURD, and Lorraine Giordano, EBCRC human resources coordinator.
Using data provided by the Department of Labor and the U.S. Navy, the report documents the employment status of 14,873 civilian workers who lost their jobs at five decommissioned East Bay military bases - Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo; Alameda Naval Air Station and Depot, Alameda; and, in Oakland, the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital and Naval Public Works Center - as well as the Oakland Army Base, where closure will be complete this year.
The analysis, conducted in 1997, found that only 17 percent of the civilian work force studied found employment in the private sector. Of those jobs, only 31 percent paid $30,000 a year or more.
Those same workers, when employed by the military, had earned an average income of approximately $40,000 a year - nearly equal to the average annual household income in the two counties where the layoffs occurred.
Referring both to difficulties finding work and to reduced wages and loss of benefits, Kirschenbaum said that out of nearly 15,000 workers studied, about 9,000 "had their employment experience dramatically altered after base closure."
Characterizing the 17 percent rate of civilian re-employment as "extremely low," he estimated that 20 percent of the study group is chronically unemployed, when workers who decided to retire after losing their military jobs are excluded.
Such findings, he said, "are going to force the Department of Labor to take a serious look at skills maintained by civilian workers who are let go by the military, to see how transferable those skills are to the private sector."
The civilian work force studied was ethnically diverse, primarily older and male, with little formal education and significant earnings.
The authors analyzed the group's demographic and employment characteristics to determine which, if any, affected re-employment outcomes. Wor-kers with college and advanced degrees were most able to find new federal jobs, the report found. Race and gender appeared to have little influence on employment outcomes. Age made a more significant difference: older employees had the lowest placement rates in both federal and private sectors.
The Berkeley study shows that only one in three of the jobs secured in the private sector was in manufacturing, although two out of three civilians studied had worked in manufacturing occupations, such as ship building and retrofitting, for the military.
Prior to recent rounds of base closures, the U.S. was home to 495 military bases employing more than 600,000 civilian workers. Since 1988, more than 100 major bases around the country have closed, eliminating 75,000 civilian positions.
Kirschenbaum noted that the base closures have occurred in the midst of a transition from an industrial economy to a technology and service-based one.
While surrounding East Bay communities lost much of their manufacturing jobs during the 1970s and '80s, he said, the military bases located there "preserved an industrial work force well into the '90s."
Offering civilian workers with little formal education high pay, on-the-job training, and good benefits, "military bases provided one of the best job opportunities the American government had to offer," said Kirschenbaum.
Now these workers are "the last ones out" into a technology and service-centered economy with little use for their expertise, he said.
"When military bases close," he said, "everyone focuses on the real estate. We need to be paying more attention to what happens to civilian workers."