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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Wages Are Dropping For LA County Young Workers

Young workers wages have dropped almost 11 percent since 2000, despite the fact that more young workers are getting bachelor's degrees. 

According to a new University of California, Los Angeles Labor Center report, 57 percent of Los Angeles’s young workers are employed in low-wage jobs, earning less than $13.38 per hour.  

The young workers, between 18 and 29 years old, make up 25 percent of the total workers in Los Angeles County.

In the report, the researchers said that young workers’ wages have dropped by 10.8 percent since 2000 — a drop that is significant because young workers are not using those wages on petty expenses.

“They do have other responsibilities,” researcher Jeylee Quiroz said. “They’re not only students, but, you know ...  they have a family, they have other responsibilities as well.”

The survey results indicate that one-third of the young workers identify as the head of their household. 

UCLA Labor Center research director Saba Waheed said wages are dropping because the types of jobs available to young workers have changed.

“We used to be a manufacturing city,” she said. “Along with that were better wages … so you could be a low skilled worker and still make decent wages that could support a family.”

Now, many young workers take jobs in the retail and restaurant industries

Young workers are earning lower wages despite the fact that more of them are educated than ever before: 26.4 percent of young workers have bachelor’s degrees, and 9 out of 10 have “at least a high school education,” the researchers wrote in the report. 

Click here to see the interactive timeline.

“Since 1980, the number’s actually doubled,” Waheed said, referring to the percentage of young workers who have completed bachelor’s degrees. “They are seeing some of the greatest decline in their wages, and for us that just shows that young people are educated, over-educated, and under-paid.”

Even if they ascend to manager positions, that does not necessarily mean they earn high wages.

According to the report, 25 percent of managers and almost 50 percent of supervisors earn less than $13.38 per hour. 

“Historically, young people have always been used as a way to fill labor market needs when there is a need for workers,” project director Janna Shadduck-Hernández said. “Also, they’re the first to be fired when there isn’t a need.”

Shadduck-Hernández said young people — students and workers — guided the trajectory of the research project, which included contributions by UCLA students, the UCLA Labor Center, and partner organizations like the Youth Policy Institute, labor unions, and worker centers. 

Young workers also conducted interviews of fellow young workers.

“So, it’s been a very community-based, young worker-driven project and we’re really proud of it,” Shadduck-Hernández said.

The researchers met at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center to work on a new report. It will include additional content from a literature review and 32 interviews with young, low-wage workers.

While Quiroz agrees that data like those in the initial report are helpful, they can’t tell the whole story the way interviews and personal accounts can.

“We want the workers to tell their story through this report,” Quiroz said. 

The researchers expect to release the new report by next month. 


The report asserts that the findings highlight "a critical situation that policy makers, government officials, employers, educators and workers should care about this.

Sourav Basak [Blogger, Entrepreneur, Thinker]

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