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

UC Berkeley Labor Center

For Immediate Release

CONTACT: UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education Communications (510) 604-2289
Jacqueline Sullivan

Berkeley — A new interactive data explorer from the Labor Center at University of California, Berkeley offers an in-depth look at the people who make up California’s low-wage workforce. The data are sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau’s 2017 Current Population Survey and 2016 American Community Survey. The data explorer defines low-wage work as jobs that pay less than $14.35 per hour, which is two-thirds of the median full-time wage in California.

The analysis finds that one in three (32 percent) working Californians has a low-wage job. “That’s nearly nearly 5 million people- more than the combined populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco,” said Ian Perry, research associate at the Labor Center who compiled the report. “One in three working Californians is earning an average of $11 an hour in one of the most expensive states in the nation.” Even when working full time, annual median earnings for low-wage workers reach just $21,000.

The explorer provides a wide range of other information on the state’s low-wage workforce, including demographics, job characteristics, industries, occupations, use of public assistance programs, and geography.

The graphs in the explorer also show how wage inequality in California has increased dramatically since the late 1970s. Workers at the bottom and in the middle of the wage distribution have seen their earnings stagnate in real terms, after adjusting for inflation, while high-wage workers have seen their earnings rise sharply. Absent significant shifts in the policy or economic context, California’s low-wage jobs problem will likely continue, since official employment projections to 2024 do not show a substantial change to the state’s mix of jobs. The state’s minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $15 per hour by 2023, which should help raise pay for low-wage workers, but more work remains to be done.

The findings dispel many common myths about low-wage workers. Download the 5 Myths poster.

The project was made possible with a grant from The California Wellness Foundation.

The Center for Labor Research and Education (Labor Center) is a public service project of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at UC Berkeley. IRLE connects world-class research with policy to improve workers’ lives, communities, and society.