UC Berkeley Labor Center study finds 1 in 3 Californian workers has low-wage job

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A study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, or UC Berkeley Labor Center, found that one in three workers in California has a “low-wage” job.

The Labor Center defines low-wage workers as those earning less than two-thirds of the median full-time wage in California. Workers making less than $14.35 per hour are considered “low-wage” workers. Roughly 4,900,000 people in California are earning low wages.

When addressing the theory behind the proportion of low-wage workers in California, research and policy associate at the Labor Center Ian Perry explained that low-wage jobs are the area in the market where predicted job growth is highest. This includes jobs such as home care and restaurant employees.

“The raw number (of low-wage jobs) is increasing, the proportion is remaining fairly flat, but as employment grows and population grows, there is more,” Perry said. “But it’s still roughly one in three California workers. From what we’ve seen, this is constant and goes back a couple decades. Unless we see major changes, that seems likely to continue.”

The Labor Center acquired its information from official government sources, such as the Current Population Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

Perry said that despite this, California is on the right track in terms of passing a $15 minimum wage, which will be implemented in the 2020s.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 spokesperson John de los Angeles said the effects of low-wage jobs mostly impact marginalized communities.

“What we’re seeing is that they (the University of California) are outsourcing jobs which have historically served as career pathways to the middle class,” de los Angeles said. “More and more, jobs are being contracted out, and these affected communities are overwhelmingly women, immigrants and people of color, and they’re being trapped because these career pathways no longer exist.”

Of these low-wage workers, Black women face the greatest income disparities within the UC system, according to an AFSCME study.

Perry said the persistence of the rate of low-wage workers in California is the most notable part of the issue. They added that policy intervention will be necessary to address this issue.

“Our population is aging, and so no matter what happens, we’re going to need more home care workers. The need for these jobs isn’t going to go away, and so we will need to start paying them higher wages in order to address this problem,” Perry said. “It’s going to take policy to improve these wages and improve these jobs. We can’t just rely on a growing economy or a booming tech vector to fix this problem for us.”

Shelby Mayes covers race and diversity. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shelbymayesdc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of the headline accompanying this article incorrectly stated that a study showed that one in three Californians has a low-wage job. In fact, the study showed that one in three Californian workers has a low-wage job.