A new report from the UCLA Labor Center [ht: ja], “I am a #YOUNGWORKER,” challenges the prevailing cliché of “young people as self-indulgent millennials who live with their parents, idly wait for the perfect job, and collect paychecks mostly for shopping and weekend leisure.”
In reality, many employers rely on youth to supply “cheap, surplus, temporary and easy-to-discipline labor” that can be recruited or disposed of according to the whims of the business cycle. Adults often portray these early jobs as brief interludes or rites of passage to justify the precarious conditions of “youth” forms of work.
The study focuses on workers between the ages of 18 and 29 in retail and food service, the two largest employers of young people in Los Angeles. Together, they employ a quarter-million young workers—almost half (42.6%) their workforce.
The authors of the report discovered that young workers are often employed in part-time jobs, they play an integral role in supporting their families, and one in ten live below the poverty line.
In addition, young workers struggle to balance work and school (“They need to work in order to afford school, and they need to attend school so they can get ahead at work”) and owe increasing amounts of educational debt (more than $19 thousand on average).
On the job, most (90 percent) do not have a set schedule, since they are forced to “depend on schedule assignments that are staggered weekly and build an intricate web of overlapping shifts that ensure that workers are constantly present on the store floor or stockrooms.” They are also vulnerable to various forms of wage threat (not getting paid for overtime or working off the clock), are often harassed by both bosses and customers, and do not receive the benefits (such as sick days, vacation, and health insurance) other workers have managed to secure.
As if that were not bad enough, the youth unemployment rate (11.2 percent) is more than twice the official rate (5 percent).
In other words, young workers today are often living on a “dead end street.”