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UCLA: young Los Angeles workers are being set up for failure

The Great Recession is over, at least officially. But for young Los Angelinos, the promised recovery never materialized.

A new report from the UCLA Labor Center finds that 57% of Los Angeles workers between the ages of 18 and 29 are stuck in low-wage jobs, which pay $13.38 an hour or less. This, despite the fact that young workers today are better educated than any generation before them, with the number of workers with bachelor’s degrees doubling over the past three decades. And since one in four Los Angeles workers is under the age of 29, low wages have a depressing effect on the local economy.

“Black and Latino youth are hit hardest by stagnant wages, unemployment, and soaring costs of living,” the report states.

Fully two-thirds of young Hispanic workers are making less than $13.38 an hour, while young black workers have a 28.4% unemployment rate. Across all demographics, young people have an unemployment rate nearly double the city-wide average, at 16.8% to 9.2% respectively. In addition, 28% of young Angelinos are foreign born and 10.5% are undocumented. Nationwide, there were 4.7 million undocumented adults with children living in the United States as of 2012; however, research shows that immigrants and U.S.-born children of immigrants are no more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the population.

To address these dismal economic prospects, local leaders approved a $15 per hour minimum wage for Los Angeles county by 2020. But for now, low-wage workers in Los Angeles are struggling to cope with a high cost of living coupled with the rising cost of higher education and student loans. Not only that, but Los Angeles is the nation’s least affordable rental market.

While most young workers are stuck in dead-end service jobs like retail and restaurant work, even traditionally higher-wage jobs fail to provide a living wage in 2015. The new UCLA report specifically cites Los Angeles teachers as receiving sub-standard pay.

The report cautions that reversing this crisis will require action on a variety of fronts. Issues like high student loans, rising cost of living, unaffordable rents, stagnant wages, and high unemployment are challenging enough on their own, but dealing with all of them simultaneously is setting up an entire generation for failure.

The Labor Center concludes its report with a strong call to action: “This report highlights a critical situation that policy makers, government officials, educators, employers, and workers should care about. If early employment experiences indicate lasting effects on social well-being, economic security and life long earnings, the current overview of young workers in Los Angeles County needs to change to ensure upward mobility and growing economic equality for ALL young workers in Los Angeles.”

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