UCD study cites plight of low-wage workers

Published: Friday, May. 9, 2014 - 10:15 am
Last Modified: Friday, May. 9, 2014 - 10:37 am

Low-wage workers wanting to enhance their skills and move into higher-paying jobs are blocked by working long hours and multiple jobs that make skill-building and education nearly impossible, according to a new policy brief released by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis.

In the ongoing study, Victoria Smith, a UCD professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate for the research center, and co-author Brian Halpin, a UCD graduate student in sociology, conducted interviews with 25 low-wage workers in the Napa/Sonoma area in the fall of 2012. All interviewees were first-generation immigrants who either grew up in the United States or their home countries. They work in various sectors, including food service, landscaping, domestic work, office cleaning and construction. Some work in multiple sectors.

The study found that workers know they can improve jobs skills, but the nature of low-wage work limits opportunities, and they remain in low-wage jobs under pressure to simply support themselves or others.

“People find themselves very caught up, just treading water. The fact that they often are supporting other people heightens their need to take extra hours when they can get them,” Smith said.

Smith and Halpin contend that introducing living wages and other worker protections could create more possibilities for workers to support themselves and their families, while potentially freeing up workers to enhance their skills. The co-authors also contend that this could also increase efficiency and productivity in the overall economy.

The full policy brief can be seen at http://bit.ly/1kGhWIn.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

Read more articles by Mark Glover

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