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UCLA

Young Workers in L.A. Are Underpaid

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By Kristen Hardy '17

Published Oct 9, 2015 8:00 AM


Those aged 18 to 29 drive the service economy, yet are the largest share of low-wage earners.

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Photo by Jeroen Werkman

Young workers are the driving force of L.A.’s service economy, yet they make up the largest share of low-wage earners. These are among the findings in a recent report released by the UCLA Labor Center.

Titled “Young Workers in Los Angeles: A Snapshot,” the report emphasizes that young workers in Los Angeles county are vitally important, yet suffer under the current economic status quo.

The report focuses on workers who are 18 to 29 years old and “are the faces that greet us in coffee shops, fast food establishments, retail stores, and grocery markets. These jobs directly impact and sustain the local economy,” according to the report.

The 921,465 young workers in Los Angeles represent one in every four workers. They often occupy front-line jobs — such as cashiers or waiters — that have the most interaction with the public. But despite the fundamental nature of their work, in the last 15 years their wages have fallen by 10.8 percent. Young workers are also hit harder by economic recessions and have higher rates of unemployment than the general working population.

A majority of young workers (57 percent) make only two-thirds or less of the median hourly wage of full-time workers. The low wage in Los Angeles County in 2013 was $13.38 per hour.

The report states that a job market that provides low-wage earnings to this segment of the population continues to become less and less sufficient. Considering the other responsibilities of these workers, such as continuing their education or providing for a household, makes clear why they are unable to thrive.

These workers’ plight is not for lack of effort on their part. Almost one quarter of young college graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Los Angeles are still in low-wage jobs, and nearly 20 percent continue to occupy front-line employment.

The report asserts that these findings highlight “a critical situation that policy makers, government officials, educators, employers and workers should care about. If early employment experiences indicate lasting effects on social well-being, economic security and lifelong earnings, the current overview of young workers in Los Angeles County needs to change to ensure upward mobility and growing economic equality for ALL young workers in Los Angeles.”

The full report is available for download here.

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