More than half of young workers in Los Angeles are settling for dead-end jobs

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Unlike their booming Bay-Area brethren, Los Angeles residents have experienced a lumpy recovery from the Great Recession: the real-estate market crashed harder, unemployment is still relatively high and, according to a new study, those with jobs, especially young workers aren’t getting paid very well.

The University of California-Los Angeles' Labor Center says 57% of Los Angeles workers aged 18 to 29 are making $13.38 an hour or less. That’s lower than the $15-an-hour minimum wage that will be required in the county by 2020 under a newly approved rule.


UCLA’s report found that 29% of young Los Angeles workers are employed in restaurants and retail stores, which are traditionally low-wage jobs. But the researchers also found that young Angelinos who work in higher wage jobs, like teaching, are also not earning competitive wages. And this is all happening even as these workers are more educated than ever—the number with bachelor’s degrees has almost doubled since 1980.

“These jobs directly impact and sustain the local economy, yet young workers are unable to sustain themselves as they comprise the lion’s share of low-wage earners in the region,” the report says. “Los Angeles’s combined high cost of living and low wages, make it extremely difficult for this workforce to make ends meet.”


Indeed, this report backs another from UCLA in August showing that Los Angeles is the least affordable rental market in the U.S.

It wasn't always this way, but changes in L.A.’s economy since 1980 have dramatically affected the job market. Manufacturing, which provided reliably higher wagers for young workers, has completely vanished. The hospitality industry has moved in, with retail and restaurants becoming the top two industries for young workers.

Some other notable stats from the report:

  • Two-thirds of young Hispanic workers make less than $13.38.
  • Young black Angelinos have an unemployment rate of 28.4%.
  • 28% of young workers are foreign born, and 10.5% are undocumented.

The recent minimum wage hike is a good step toward improving these issues, but it won’t take effect for years. Meanwhile, the study's authors say the effects of the current low-wage environment could be lasting.


"If early employment experiences indicate lasting effects on social well-being, economic security and life long 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," they conclude.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.