RELEASE: Low-Wage Work in California Data Explorer

Contact: Van Nguyen |, (415) 506-8054

Online data explorer provides in-depth look at California’s low-wage workforce

BERKELEY, CA. – Today, the UC Berkeley Labor Center released an update to its Low-Wage Work in California Data Explorer, which provides researchers, policymakers, journalists, and the public with an in-depth look at the people who make up California’s low-wage workforce.

The explorer shows that one out of every three working Californians has a low-wage job, totaling 4.3 million low-wage workers. Low-wage work is defined here as jobs that pay less than $18.02 per hour, which is less than two-thirds of the median full-time wage in California. Even working full time, annual median earnings for low-wage workers reached just $25,000 in 2021.

“As the state emerges from the pandemic, more needs to be done to ensure that workers who are paid low wages benefit from the economic recovery,” says Enrique Lopezlira, director of the Low-Wage Work Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center. “Our data explorer provides policymakers and other stakeholders with a comprehensive understanding of the low-wage workforce that is necessary to develop effective policy solutions for all working Californians.”

The interactive data explorer provides comprehensive data on the state’s low-wage workforce, including demographics, job characteristics, industries, occupations, use of public assistance programs, and geography. It also provides users with graphics, tables, research summaries, interactive visualizations, and downloadable data. The data are sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau’s 2021 Current Population Survey, 2019 American Community Survey, and 2022 Current Employment Statistics Survey.

Since the mid-1990s, California workers earning low wages have experienced much slower real wage growth than workers earning higher wages, dramatically increasing wage inequality in the state. Even the increase in the state minimum wage to $15 an hour and recent wage growth have not fundamentally changed this trend. The median family income of low-wage workers is a little over half the family income of the state’s workforce overall.

“Given official employment projections, California’s low-wage occupational and industry configuration will continue into the foreseeable future,” says Lopezlira. “This means that absent significant shifts in the policy or economic context, low-wage workers and their families will continue to face economic insecurity. Low wages are compounded by the low-quality nature of these jobs, characterized by wage theft, unstable work hours, lack of health and retirement benefits, and other poor working conditions.”

Other key takeaways from the explorer:

  • The large majority of California’s low-wage workers are adults, not teens. In fact, California’s low-wage workers are now older than they were in previous decades. The average age for low-wage workers is 36, compared to 40 for all workers.
  • California’s low-wage workers are more educated now than in past decades. While low-wage workers are less formally educated than the overall workforce, 45% of low-wage workers have at least some college experience, and about one in seven has a bachelor’s or advanced degree. Between 1994 and 2021, the percentage of low-wage workers without a high school degree declined by over one-third.
  • Workers of color and women constitute the majority of California’s low-wage workforce. For example, 58% are Latinx, compared with 41% of all workers. More than half of California’s low-wage workers are women, which is consistent across all demographic groups.
  • Low-wage workers live and raise a family on these jobs. About four out of ten low-wage workers in the state are the sole earners in their families. Over 40% of low-wage workers are married, and 20% have children.
  • The majority of low-wage work is full-time work, and many part-time low-wage workers would prefer to work full time. Although low-wage workers are two times more likely to work part-time compared to the state’s overall workforce, two out of every three low-wage workers are full-time workers.
  • Low-wage workers are employed throughout California’s economy across many industries and occupations. In terms of industries, retail and leisure and hospitality account for one-third of California’s low-wage workers. The most common low-wage occupations are retail salespersons, personal care aides, and cooks and food preparation workers.

Using data from the explorer, a blog post also released today dispels many common myths about low-wage workers.

The project was made possible by grants from The James Irvine Foundation and The California Wellness Foundation.


Founded in 1964, the UC Berkeley Labor Center works to address the most critical challenges affecting working families in California and across the nation. The Center provides timely, policy-relevant research on labor and employment issues and carries out training and education programs for labor leaders and students.