UCLA Labor Center

UCLA Labor Center Report Finds Los Angeles is in the Throes of a Black Jobs Crisis

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TUESDAY, March 21, 2017
Contact: Citlalli Chávez, ​citlallichavez@ucla.edu​, (714) 742-1581

LOS ANGELES – A new study, ​Ready to Work, Uprooting Inequity: Black Workers in Los Angeles County​ by the UCLA Labor Center and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center finds that widening inequality and a lack of economic opportunities is leading Los Angeles to a Black jobs crisis. The report is a call to action to provide real access to family-sustaining employment opportunities with livable wages, an opportunity for upward mobility and fair and safe workplace practices that are essential to develop an adequate and dignified standard of living for Black workers.

According to the report, Black workers are experiencing a generational crisis as the direct result of regressive economic policies and institutionalized racism. When manufacturing industries that employed a large share of Black workers moved offshore this lead to depletion of stable and available union jobs while the jobs that did remain declined in quality. Decades of economic restructuring, a diminishment of available jobs and affordable housing coupled with the gradual disinvestment in Black neighborhoods decimated the Black workforce and compelled much of the community to leave. Since the 1980’s, the Black population in Los Angeles has declined by over 100,000 residents while the Inland Empire has gained over 250,000 Black residents.

“In the wake of massive rollbacks of progressive reforms and discourse at the national level, intentional local and state strategies focused on the protection and defense of vulnerable Black workers is needed,” explained Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, UCLA Labor Center Project Director, Black Worker Center co-founder and report co-author, “Black people are integral to Los Angeles County and to the state as a whole. It is still one of the largest Black communities in both the state and the nation.”

Report findings also indicate that while Black workers in Los Angeles are significantly more educated than previous generations, they experience a lower wages and significantly higher unemployment rate than white workers. Since 1980, the number of those with less than a high school degree has decreased by one-third to 10% and the number of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher has doubled. Yet, Black workers with a high school or less education experience unemployment at almost double the rate as white workers at the same education level. And even with a higher degree, more than 1 in 10 Black workers is unemployed.

“Black workers are experiencing a broken system in terms of access to quality wages and good positions,” said Saba Waheed, Research Director at the UCLA Labor Center. “Even with higher education, Black workers are still earning only three-quarters of what white workers earn. And when it comes to job positions, over a third of Black workers are employed in lower paying, precarious frontline positions. On the other hand, almost every industry that employs Black workers promotes them less compared to white workers.”

The study finds that one third of black workers earn low wages, compared to 21% of white workers. Of Black workers with higher degrees, 15% still earn low wages and 10% are working in frontline position – a sign of underemployment. Furthermore, relative to their share of the of the overall labor force, Black workers are underrepresented in professional, construction, manufacturing, and food service jobs.

“After six years at my job, I trained a young white woman to provide administrative support to my boss. I later learned that the woman I trained was being paid the same or more than I did for doing significantly less work. Even though I brought it up to management, the disparity was not corrected,” explained Brigitte, a member of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center.

The study calls for a stabilization of Black families and communities through the creation of well-paying, quality accessible jobs. Among other solutions, report authors recommend the unionization of Black workers, an expansion of hiring benchmarks that include underrepresented workers, and an institutionalization of partnerships with credible community organizations to implement targeted outreach, recruitment, and retention programs.

“Raising the floor for Black workers will raise the floor for all workers and create a healthy, vibrant economy for Los Angeles. We saw that with the Civil Rights movement and we can see it again today,” explained Smallwood-Cuevas, “we hope the report findings are reviewed widely by community and state leaders to support grassroots efforts to end labor discrimination in Los Angeles and beyond.”

Such an effort includes the California Fair Labor and Housing Enforcement Act of 2017, a statewide bill that will be critical in our fight to end labor discrimination in Los Angeles.” The California Fair Labor and Housing Enforcement Act of 2017 was introduced by Steve Bradford (D-Los Angeles)​ in February 2017. ​“The time is now to address black worker justice in California, this bill will prepare California to deal with discrimination claims on the job as the Trump administration looks to weaken worker protections and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),” explained Robert Branch, a Los Angeles union security officer and active union member who has been fighting to improve job conditions in the security industry for over 10 years.

The report ​was based extensive literature review, an analysis of government data, and the collection of worker’s stories and case studies. It was co-produced with UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE).

Download full report here: ​http://bit.ly/uprootinginequityLA

**Please contact Citlalli Ch​ávez ​to schedule interviews with report authors and Los Angeles Black Worker Center members cited above.** ###