Statewide unemployment figures for June get released tomorrow by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the numbers won’t get much notice in Lakeland Village.
With unemployment hovering over 20 percent in “the Village,” local jobs are nearly non-existent, businesses are suffering, and the community is struggling against the realities of poverty: blight, crime, drugs and alcohol.
Seated outside at a shaded picnic table on a hot, dusty Wednesday afternoon at Lazey J’s Roadhouse on Grand Avenue in the Village, a group of weathered guys shoot the breeze over cold beers. Many of the men have jobs, but not 58-year-old Bruce Massard. The unemployed flooring installer has been out of work for four months.
“I make a little money doing odd jobs here and there, but not enough. I can do electrical, plumbing, flooring, computers … pretty much everything,” he said, explaining that to make ends meet he lives with his daughter and a roommate.
Inside Lazey J’s, the classic rock is loud, patrons play pool, and a quiet canine sits by the door. The neighborhood watering hole and the Circle K down the way are perhaps the busiest establishments along Lakeland Village’s dilapidated main drag that includes roadside attractions like doublewides and stray dogs.
Just a few hundred yards south of Lazey J’s is American Legion Post 200. Inside the dimly lit old building, a handful of vets sit around the bar.
Post member Shelly Mack, who says she served in the Army from 1986 to 1990, is underemployed. She works part-time and volunteers when she can at Post 200.
Mack doesn’t focus on her personal drama, and instead steers the conversation. She says the Post serves older, retired veterans, but there are some fresh from war, and many are unemployed.
“We have about eight or 10 who live around here and are looking for work and having a real hard time,” Mack said, noting that post traumatic stress disorder has afflicted some.
“Nobody wants to talk about it (PTSD) -- we do what we can,” she said of the Post’s assist efforts.
Mack’s "just keep going" attitude is common around Lakeland Village, but there’s also acceptance of being a have-not community. The men at Lazey J’s claim it’s been that way for as long as they can remember. People come here when they have no place left to go, the men say.
Ernie Sanchez sits behind his desk at on Grand Avenue. Wearing a grease-stained yellow T-shirt, he flips through neatly stacked paperwork while his son-in-law works out back in the garage.
The 61-year-old retired postal worker opened his modest business four years ago. He says friends in the local community make up his clientele, and he’s not getting rich. In a good month, he claims to net "maybe $600 or $700" after paying rent, utilities and business-related expenses on the shop.
“I get $125 from my (postal service) pension after paying for insurance. My wife works at Pala; we both chip in,” Sanchez explained.
He shrugged, “I have five grandchildren and one on the way. That’s why I keep doing this. Some money is better than none, right? What else would I do?”
Lakeland Village gets little love from residents or business owners in surrounding cities. Despite its historical significance as a one-time vacation destination for the rich and famous -- and its majestic setting between the Cleveland National Forest and Lake Elsinore in Southwest Riverside County -- Lakeland Village’s reputation for drugs, crime and a pervasive police presence is the brunt of many jokes today.
As Wednesday afternoon wears on, a petite, outgoing young woman named Lindsay Cox sits inside a small room at Lake Hills Community Church on Grand Avenue. She is one of nearly a dozen women gathered at a table for a 12-Step study program to “celebrate recovery.”
Cox explains she lives a few blocks away from the church with her boyfriend – both are out of work.
“I tried getting a job at the medical marijuana place next door,” she said, laughing at her circumstances. “They said I would have to start out working 40 hours for free, which I said I would do. But they never called me back!”
Several of the women chime in. Susan Flannery says her son has been looking for work since graduating from high school two years ago. Erica Posada shares that her three children were taken from her by Child Protective Services. In order to get them back, Posada claims she must have full-time work. Currently, she’s unemployed.
When asked if she has any job prospects, Posada just shakes her head.