This data tool tracks the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers in California, and how the state is recovering from these effects. The pandemic left millions of Californians out of work, and while the economy has begun to recover in recent months, some workers continue to struggle. This resource will be updated periodically, as new data becomes available, to allow users to monitor the progress of labor markets in the state.
Future of Work & Workers
Labor Center Leadership
Unions & Worker Organizations
Area of Expertise
Labor standards policies
Public policy and unions
Ken Jacobs is the chair of the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, where he has been a labor specialist since 2002. His areas of focus include low-wage work, labor standards policies, sectoral wage setting, and health care coverage. Recent research includes analyses of California Proposition 22 and drivers’ earnings, worker misclassification, and the effect unions on wages and benefits; prospective studies of proposed city and state minimum wage laws; the relationship between wages, turnover, security, and safety at U.S. airports; the economic benefits of care work; and the public cost of low-wage work.
Jacobs is the co-editor with Michael Reich and Miranda Dietz of When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level from University of California Press. Jacobs led a multi-campus program providing research and technical assistance to unions, consumer stakeholders, and policymakers on the effects of the Affordable Care Act and measures to cover the remaining uninsured. His work has been covered in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio.
We look at four cases of recent experiments at the local level with sectoral standards. Our cases show that sectoral standards have the potential to expand new forms of social bargaining at the state and local level through public policy in areas of the country where worker organizations are already strong.
Low wages and exploitative practices in the resident construction industry cause profound hardship for workers and their families. It also costs the public. This analysis finds almost half of families of construction workers in California are enrolled in a safety net program at an annual cost of over $3 billion. By comparison, just over a third of all California workers have a family member enrolled in one or more safety net program.
The ultimate impact AB 257 will have on the state budget will depend on to-be-made decisions by the council. But even with a small increase in fast-food workers’ wages resulting from the bill, the net fiscal effect is likely to be positive for the state.
This article, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, discusses research that used natural experiments to measure downstream effects that are clearly caused by changes in family income. There is strong evidence of a causal effect of higher net income on child development, including math and reading test scores, educational attainment, birth weight, mental health, and health in adulthood.
Jacobs has been trying to quantify the cost of gig work on taxpayers for several years. A report he published with his colleague Michael Reich said that if Uber and Lyft drivers were employees between 2014 and 2019, the two companies alone would have contributed $413 million to the California Unemployment Insurance Fund.
California set out in 2016 to become the first state on a path to a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Five years later, how’s that going?
Drivers aren’t paid for the time they spend waiting for passengers, nor the time they spend preparing and cleaning their cars. That time accounts for one-third of the drivers’ working time, Ken Jacobs at the UC Berkeley Labor Center said.
Today’s jobs report shows a complicated picture for workers. The economy added only 235,000 jobs in August, despite near-record vacancies, while hourly wages grew faster than expected. But hold off a moment before calling it a labor shortage.
The difficulty in finding workers has helped lift wages for low-paid employees, although higher wages might not be enough to convince some people to come off the sidelines, Jacobs said.
Jacobs says the current union election system gives employers significant access to workers and this bill, he says, puts the decision in the hands of the farmworkers.
“The judge’s ruling states that changing that would require a constitutional amendment,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. “Proposition 22 was not a constitutional amendment.”
Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California at Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, said it’s a big win for drivers who challenged the law — but only the first stage, and it could take another year until it’s resolved.
The PRO Act, now in Congress, uses the same test for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee as the test codified in Assembly Bill 5, but this is specifically for the purposes of collective bargaining, said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Therefore, he said, it would not affect workers’ status for the purpose of other federal laws, such as taxes or minimum wage.
“For a public sector union to not engage in politics at all is unilateral disarmament,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “Unions have really been the strongest bulwark of support for electing both candidates and passing ballot propositions that are in the broader interests of working people and that support strong, good quality public services. Were unions in general to pull out of doing so, that would have real ramifications.”