UCLA Labor Center

Young Workers in California: A Snapshot

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2020 / Reyna Orellana, Jeylee Quiroz, Monica Macias

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Young Workers in California: A Snapshot builds from a series of UCLA Labor Center studies that capture the experiences of young people in the workplace. Contrary to popular narratives about youth working to earn pocket money for leisure items, these studies found that the vast majority in Los Angeles County work to support their families, pay for school, and cover basic needs. They face erratic scheduling practices that make it difficult to balance work with school, family, and other individual needs. Additionally, they encounter serious work issues including wage theft, harassment, and a lack of a career ladder. 

This report broadens the scope of our previous research by analyzing the state of young workers throughout California, with a focus on the industries in which they are concentrated: retail, food services, health care, social assistance, education, administrative and office work, the sciences, and technology. 

Among other findings, the report notes: 

  • Young people are a core part of the California landscape. 1 in 4 workers in California is a young person.
  • The number of young workers who have completed a bachelor’s degree since 1980 has doubled, yet their wages have declined. Today, 1 in 2 young workers earns low wages. 
  • Some California young workers are “workers and learners”: 29% both work and go to school.
  • One quarter of young workers are heads of household, and 15% support children in their home.
  • Half of young workers are in frontline jobs, and a third work in low-wage industries such as restaurant and retail.
  • They experience higher unemployment than all workers and some, even with a bachelor’s degree, continue to work in low-wage jobs or frontline positions.