Executive summary

This report examines the state of work in the East Bay prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We find that even before the pandemic, when the economy was strong by conventional economic metrics and had recovered from the Great Recession, many East Bay workers were earning low wages, housing cost-burdened, and struggling to make ends meet, with workers of color in particular making wages too low to support themselves and their families. The report shows that a return to a pre-pandemic economy is not enough to sustain many East Bay workers and their families. Black and Hispanic workers in particular fared worse than all workers in nearly every metric. Major findings include:

  • One in four East Bay workers earned low wages. That is, they earned less than two-thirds of the median full-time hourly wage compared to all workers in the state. However, over a third of Hispanic and Black workers earned low wages.
  • One-fifth of Hispanic workers and 17% of Black workers lived in “near poverty”—that is, in families earning 200% or less of the federal poverty threshold based on their family size–compared to 12% of all East Bay workers. Most workers in or near poverty worked all year and over half worked full-time.
  • East Bay workers struggled with self-sufficiency. Two out of three Black workers, three out of four Hispanic workers, and one in two Asian or Pacific Islander workers earned an hourly wage too low to support a family of two children and two working adults, even when assuming a partner worked full-time and earned the same wage. Overall, more than half of East Bay workers earned wages too low to support a family.
  • Over one-third of East Bay workers were housing cost-burdened. Workers of color and those with lower household incomes struggled with paying too much on rent. Workers in lower-income households in particular saw a dramatic increase in the share of income spent on rent between 2015 and 2019.

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