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Low wage work plagues the California economy.

That’s the takeaway from another excellent study just released by UC Berkeley Labor Center, “Low Wage Work in California: 2014 Chartbook”. This study (see link below) is chock full of interesting (and disturbing) charts and graphs about large-scale low pay job in California.

Consider a few highlights of the study:

-real wages for the bottom 50% (those earning less than $13.63 per hour in 2014) have declined since 1979 when adjusted for inflation

-33% of California workers earn less than $13.63 an hour (4.7 million workers)

-surprisingly, of those low wage workers 45% have some college or more education

-40% of the low wage workers are foreign born

-adjusted for inflation, low wage workers have seen their family income decline by 12% since 2000

-almost 60% of low wage workers live in families under 200% of Federal Poverty level

-median earnings for low wage workers is $20,400

-low wage workers are twice as likely to have involuntary part time work

-only 54% of low wage workers have full time, full year jobs

-low wage workers often struggle due to unpaid sick leave, wage theft, and unpredictable “on call” schedules

-specific employment sectors have a high proportion of low wage workers (documented in various charts)

 -many of the jobs for which future employment growth is predicted are low-wage jobs

-low wage workers score high on various indices of economic insecurity (i.e. % of children on lunch programs, proportion of households paying more than 30% of their income in rent, proportion of workers with a family member enrolled in Medi-Cal etc)

-low wage workers rely on a mix of public assistance programs

Why, in a workers’ comp blog, am I covering this?

Because I think it is critical to remember the population that workers’ comp serves.

As stakeholders we argue about various benefit and benefit delivery system issues.

Yet time and time again in my career I have seen doctors, lawyers and adjusters who had no real concept of the economic desperation of the injured worker who is off work and having trouble making ends meet. The worker who may not be able to return to their job. The worker who feels that they have become superfluous.

The desperation often extends to their family members (right, their kids).

Simply stated, many low wage workers are already living on an economic precipice. In a region such as the San Francisco Bay area, where apartment rents are skyrocketing, the situation can be dire.

Lawyers, doctors, and adjusters will move on to their next case.

It”s easy for many of us to become jaded and cavalier, losing sight of the people in the system that the system is supposed to serve.

The numbers and graphs from the UC Berkeley Labor Center paint a picture of California that is far more grim than many of the system stakeholders personally know.

The study can be found here:


My recent post title “Cost Shifting” discusses another recent Labor Center study:


Stay tuned.

Julius Young





Julius Young

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