Jobs: The cure-all for the ailing city

The impact of job creation and work in Fresno is immune to hyperbole.


Mayor Lee Brand says Fresno’s future is all about jobs.


“Jobs” is another way of saying “work.” Kay Hymowitz and the Dog Pound Gang, as unlikely a pairing as you’ll ever find, give us a sense the immense challenge facing Brand and his city.

Let’s begin with Hymowitz. She is one of the best authors/journalists in America. A good portion of her reporting is published in New York City-based magazine City Journal.

The most recent issue of City Journal is devoted to what it calls “The Shape of Work to Come.” Hymowitz’s article is titled “The Mother of All Disruptions.”

She’s talking about artificial intelligence (AI), a world that is huge, varied and seemingly growing at the speed of light. AI isn’t threatening to take Clayton Kershaw’s job. But just about everyone else’s job is in AI’s crosshairs.

Hymowitz writes: “So let’s stipulate: no one knows for sure what’s about to happen to the labor market. Most observers agree, however, on at least two things. First, the pace of AI discoveries and implementation is accelerating. Robots are now doing things that seemed like science fiction just a short time ago. Was anyone talking about a retail-sector meltdown, driven in good measure by AI-facilitated e-commerce, last year? Second, fasten your seatbelts. Whether you call it ‘the second machine age’ – as MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee do, in a 2014 book by that name – or the fourth industrial revolution, this will be big. Most Silicon Valley honchos, scientists, and economists think that this time is different. Exactly how many jobs will be lost, which kinds of jobs and when, and what to do to prepare for these losses may be matters of dispute. No longer questioned is that a massive disruption in the way we earn a living is coming and that it will transform communities, education—and perhaps even our notion of an America defined by industriousness and upward mobility.”

Hymowitz says there are two reasons to think AI is a job-disruptor bigger than anything seen before.

First, ever more powerful computers can do ever more amazing things with data. “You might even say that machines are becoming self-driving,” Hymowitz writes.

Second, Hymowitz writes, “AI is set to invade just about every sector of the economy.” She notes that the World Bank predicts 57% of jobs in developed countries are at risk of being replaced by machines over the next two decades.

Hymowitz’s wide ranging article notes that Amazon is constantly expanding its army of robots. “The writing,” Hymowitz writes, “is on the warehouse wall.”

Hymowitz finishes with thoughts on what those of us without the talents of a Clayton Kershaw are to do. A lot of jobless or under-employed people, especially young men, are pretty much wasting their lives.

Writes Hymowitz: “An unknown number – though surely substantial – are taking opioids. We know from sources what they are not doing: going to school; living with, providing for, or taking care of their kids.”

Hymowitz does a superb job. City Journal is the best there is when it comes to covering municipal policy.

Next, we move to the Dog Pound Gang.

The West Fresno-based gang, as we’ve come to learn, is among the Valley’s biggest and most violent groups of thugs. Fresno police last year teamed up with other local law enforcement agencies as well as state and federal crime-fighters to wage a successful campaign against the Dog Pound Gang’s leadership.

A similar campaign of investigation and arrest took a big bite out of the leadership ranks of the Strother Gang, another West Fresno-based group of bad guys.

Chief Jerry Dyer held a news conference last week that focused on Fresno’s surge in homicides and shootings. There had been 38 murders in 2017 as of mid-July compared to 18 at the same date in 2016. Gangs were a big factor in the mayhem.

Dyer in the Q-and-A elaborated on what’s happening.

Since the conclusion of the multi-agency investigations, Dyer said, “the Dog Pound Gang, which was the most violent in Southwest Fresno, and the Strother Gang, which was probably equally as violent, much of the leadership has been taken out. We do know that there are youngsters that are out there in the gangs that have, since that time, tried to prove their worth – tried to establish themselves. But that’s not all that’s driving it. We know that we have some significant feuds that have occurred between two particular gangs or sets of gangs. So, there are a lot of things that are driving gang violence this year. But that’s part of it.”

It turns out that the cycle of life – the old making way for the young – also applies to profitable criminal gangs facing a leadership vacuum.

Said Dyer: “We are seeing more youth possessing firearms that are involved in gangs…. It is not uncommon for us to arrest 15- or 16-year-olds who are involved in gangs with firearms, whether that be an assault-type rifle or a handgun – and a willingness to use it.”

This news conference wasn’t the first time that Dyer talked about gangs. I asked the Chief a question that always seems to be overlooked: Where do gangs come from?

“Gang members are not born,” Dyer said. “Gang members evolve, and they generally are mentored into that type of lifestyle, often times by a relative, maybe an older brother who is in a gang, (by) family members or friends in that neighborhood that they are growing up in. Which is why it’s all the more important – what Captain Salazar talked about – for us to not only be focused on enforcement which is our primary goal, but to also be focused on the prevention and the intervention.”

Captain Mark Salazar, commander of the Southwest Policing District, earlier in the news conference had reviewed his officers’ efforts to broaden the career horizons of at-risk West Fresno youth.

Dyer at the news conference said those efforts (such as field trips and one-on-one mentoring) are designed to show gang-prone youth that “they can have a normal life like anyone else. They have to choose that lifestyle, but we have to show them the way. Not just us, but the school district, the churches, the family members.”

I asked if the Mayor’s job-creation initiatives will help make gangs less enticing as a career choice, be it the wannabes or those already well-established in a life or organized crime.

“I will say that the long-term solution for impacting gangs in any community is getting those individuals an opportunity to have a productive lifestyle,” Dyer said. “And part of that is getting them an opportunity to have a job, getting a good education, showing them there is another way. And certainly the job creation that is being done by the Mayor will have a lasting impact on our community. But right now we’re dealing with the immediacy of the problem. In the future we know that we have to create an environment where they can have a productive lifestyle.”

What, you may ask, are those job-creation initiatives coming from the Mayor?

First and foremost is rebuilding Fresno’s industrial-park infrastructure so the city can become a hub for e-commerce. Amazon is supposed to bring up to 2,500 jobs when it builds a huge fulfillment center south of Downtown.

“We need to create 10,000 jobs in the next 10 years,” Brand said when he rolled out his 2017-18 budget in May. “Ten thousand new jobs, using the multiplier effect, actually mean 20,000 jobs due to the increased need for retail, service and support jobs.

“That means our unemployment rate gets cut in half, from 10% to an unprecedented 5%. Those 20,000 new jobs also mean an estimated average of $1,050 of increased tax revenue per job. That’s potentially $21 million more per year by 2027.

“My formula for success is: more jobs equals more revenue; more revenue equals better services; better services equals better quality of life.”

The shape of 21st century work in Fresno doesn’t have to be same as in New York City or Southern California or the Bay Area. But Fresno’s version of success won’t be handed to us on a silver platter. We’ll have to earn it.

In light of the thoughts of Kay Hymowitz, Chief Dyer and Mayor Brand, how?

I’ve been asking that question around town. Turns out lots of smart folks are already heading down that path.

In the coming months, CVObserver Publisher Alex Tavlian and I will keep you abreast of their journey.

It’s our journey, too.

1 comment
  1. Question with regard to employing gang members: Why would they choose to work a 9 to 5 job (perhaps at minimum wage) when they can make more money selling drugs or dealing in human trafficking? What is the incentive to work a regular job for ‘peanuts’ when the lure of drug money is out there?

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