State Workers Struggle to Make Ends Meet Throughout California

March 15, 2023
By: Julie Light, UC Berkeley Labor Center

Many state workers do not earn enough to cover a basic family budget

report released today by the UC Berkeley Labor Center finds that many workers essential to keeping the state running and providing crucial services are struggling to make ends meet. Ensuring a living wage to government workers is critical to helping the state recover from the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the Labor Center finds that the state does not provide living wages to a significant portion of its workforce. This has resulted in many of the State of California’s working families facing enormous challenges including food insecurity and an untenable rent burden.

An analysis of wages for state workers represented by SEIU 1000–the largest public sector union in the state–shows that large numbers of its members do not earn enough to achieve financial stability. Though coastal regions are the least affordable, workers in all parts of the state face challenges. For example:

  • More than a third of state workers represented by SEIU 1000 do not earn enough to support a family of four even with a working partner who earns the same salary.
  • More than two-thirds do not earn enough to support themselves and a child on their own.

“Our research finds that the very people providing essential services to help Californians emerge from the impacts of the pandemic are themselves struggling to make ends meet,” said Enrique Lopezlira, economist and director of the UC Berkeley Labor Center Low Wage Work Program. “California cannot recover economically or socially if workers do not earn enough to be self-sufficient and support a family.”

What’s more, 5% of workers represented by SEIU 1000 earn too little to meet basic needs on their own.

“We’re making barely $15 and some change an hour while the cost of living is skyrocketing,” said Jason, a building and maintenance worker in the LA Area who did not want to give his last name.

For many, like Karen, a custodian in downtown Los Angeles,  low wages mean taking on extra work.

“I work a side job, too. So I have to have that extra money to basically get through the month.”

Meanwhile, data from the American Community Survey and California Department of Human Resources looking at all state workers shows that workers of color and women are overrepresented in many of the lowest earning occupations in state government, including health care support, office and administration, and food preparation. The Labor Center analysis of the data finds that without meaningful gains in wages, existing racial, and gender disparities in pay will persist or worsen.

Read the full brief.