RELEASE: The state of working East Bay

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The state of working East Bay

Pre-pandemic economic data shows that many workers struggled to make ends meet

Berkeley, CA–A new UC Berkeley Labor Center report looking at pre-pandemic data shows that many workers and their families struggled to make ends meet even before COVID hit. A quarter of all East Bay workers were in low-wage jobs. That number jumped to over a third of Black and Hispanic/Latino workers in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. More than half of East Bay workers earned wages too low to support a family of two adults and two children (calculated using MIT’s Living Wage Calculator). More than a third of East Bay workers were rent burdened, paying a large percentage of their earnings to keep a roof over their heads. Black and Hispanic/Latino workers fared worse on virtually every economic measure in the study.

The findings are particularly relevant as the Oakland City Council negotiates provisions in Mayor Sheng Thao’s budget.

“This study provides a sobering baseline of the economic state of East Bay workers in a period of relative prosperity in the Bay Area and the country,” said Savannah Hunter, the principal researcher on the study. “It is important to realize a return to a pre-pandemic economy is not enough for many working families to make ends meet.”

The study looks at American Community Survey data from 2015-2019, among other sources, and updates a 2012 study by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE).

“The Labor Center study shows that East Bay workers and their families are even worse off than we feared,” said Isaiah Toney, EBASE Deputy Director of Campaigns. “Ending pandemic protections takes us back to the ‘bad old days’. Instead, East Bay cities and counties, including Oakland, should address the consequences of having the highest cost of living in the state and use the data in this report to take action. By enforcing labor laws, stabilizing rents, and putting other protections for workers in place, all workers in the East Bay can live with dignity and joy.”

In summary, the study found:

  • One in four East Bay workers earned low wages
  • 12% were in or near poverty
  • Over half did not make a wage sufficient to support a family of two adults and two children, even assuming a partner worked full-time and earned the same wage.
  • These problems were particularly acute for workers of color.

An upcoming Labor Center report will examine the impact of Covid-19 on the state of work in the East Bay.

Read the full report, The state of working East Bay, 2015-2019.