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New York (AP) — Chelsie Church was working as a manager at a Colorado Taco Bell when she found out workers at a nearby Pizza Hut were earning more than $1 an hour more than she was.

Her attempts to negotiate a raise were unsuccessful, so she kept hunting for another job, eventually finding one at Laredo’s Tacos, a chain connected to 7-Eleven.

“Even my Taco Bell manager said, ’If they’re gonna offer you $20 an hour — take it,’” Church said.

As inflation skyrockets, hourly workers like Church have been seeking different positions with better pay.

More than 4 million Americans have quit their jobs every month since June 2021, a level never seen before last year. A Pew Research survey found that about one in five U.S. workers say they are very or somewhat likely to look for a new job in the next six months.

For many workers on the low end of the pay scale, though, inflation has already eaten into or erased any real wage gains, said Brad Hershbein, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

In July, hourly earnings rose 0.5%, an increase of 5.2% over the past year — still not enough to keep up with inflation. And sometimes switching jobs may mean earning more while giving up benefits like health insurance or schedule consistency.

Still, hiring is booming — U.S. employers added more than half a million jobs in July, according to the monthly jobs report released Friday — and unemployment remains near a 50-year low, meaning job-switching will likely remain an option at least for the near future.

“One major source of worker power is the implicit threat that you’ll quit your job and take another,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “When there’s a huge number of job openings at one time, that implicit threat is real.”

That could change if hiring slows and the U.S. economy continues to weaken. But for the moment, “The momentum is still with the worker,” said Hershbein. “We’re not where we were six to 12 months ago — but the labor market remains strong.”

Labor economist Kathryn Edwards, with the Rand Corporation, says that while hourly pay increases may be attainable right now through job-switching, other benefits — such as regular hours, sick days, and health insurance — are often not even on the table.

That’s why Ethan Ramsey, 21, continues working at the Publix supermarket in Miami, Florida, where he started in 2020.

Ramsay has seen more turnover and churn in recent months, he said, as the supermarket no longer pays as much as other hourly employers in the area. But he takes into account the Publix benefits, such as vision and dental coverage, as well as rarities like a 401 (k) contribution and a percentage of salary in company stock.

“As good as those are, you still want to be paid what your time is worth,” he said. Inflation has exacerbated the pressure.

“Every single customer that comes in — no exaggeration — everyone that’s an adult, that’s not a kid — complains that everything is more expensive at the register,” he said. To supplement his paycheck, Ramsay often picks up shifts from on-demand driving apps and works as a snow-cone delivery driver, he said.

Workers considering switching for higher wages should also take into account the possibility of “labor hoarding,” where an employer will hire new employees to have on hand, but with no guarantee of regular hours, Edwards said. In these cases, the overall return to a worker changing jobs may be lower.

“Employers bait and switch all the time,” she said.

Some workers would rather stay where they are and push for higher wages. In response to widespread instability in workplace conditions, there has been a marked increase in worker organizing in recent months, Edwards and Shierholz noted.

Union drives are up 58% over the same period last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board, and workers filed nearly 2,000 petitions for representation in the first three quarters of the 2022 fiscal year. High-profile campaigns at Amazon and more than 200 Starbucks locations have made headlines.

Maeg Yosef, 41, who has worked as a crew member at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Mass., for 18 years, said that working through the pandemic led to her and her coworkers discussing workplace safety and other conditions more often, including pay and benefits, which led to a successful union drive this month.

Days before that vote, the company announced raises for certain brackets of workers, an increase Yosef attributes to the pressure of the campaign.

“We were well aware our wages have not kept up with inflation,” she said. “And we had tried to voice concerns in the past, through surveys and other channels. The company wasn’t listening.”

Trader Joe’s workers in Minneapolis, Minn. and Boulder, Colo., have also filed for union elections, with the Minneapolis location slated to hold its vote next week.

“Among workers — and particularly low wage workers — there’s been a reigniting of the understanding that employers are seeing record profits while wages haven’t kept up,” Shierholz said. “I don’t think that will fade away as quickly. Some of what low-wage workers have gained in terms of bargaining power is not going away.”

___

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Housing | Why California is the only state with declining wages

”Survey says” looks at various rankings and scorecards judging geographic locations while noting these grades are best seen as a mix of artful interpretation and data.

Buzz: A hiring spree in the low-wage leisure and hospitality industry likely caused California to be the only state with a drop in average weekly wages this spring.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed quarterly employment data taken from a federal study of employer employment filings. These stats are considered a more accurate snapshot of employment trends – worker counts and average weekly wages – than the more widely discussed (and more current) monthly jobs figures.

Topline

California’s average weekly wage dropped by $10 in a year – or 0.6% – to $1,572 for the April-to-June quarter.  

Here are 36 reasons why California’s so darn expensive

The top gain nationally was in Idaho, up 8.5%, followed by Vermont at 8.1%, Maine at 8%, Montana at 7.4% and Georgia and Utah at 7.2%.

The smallest wage gains, after California, were found in New Hampshire at 0.4%, Washington state at 1.6%, the District of Columbia at 2% and Arkansas at 2.4%.

California’s key rivals Texas landed at No. 18 with a 6.1% increase, while Florida at No. 10 saw a 6.5% gain. Wages nationwide grew 4.3%.

Details

California bosses were in a hiring mood this spring.

California added more workers than any state – 950,000 in a year. Then came Texas at 649,000, New York at 453,000, Florida at 435,000, and New Jersey at 231,000. California accounted for 16% of the 5.77 million jobs added nationally.

Even with California being the nation’s largest job market, the hiring spree was impressive. The state ranked No. 3 with a 5.6% growth rate and topped the nation’s 4% expansion.

Only Nevada at 7.8% and New Jersey at 5.8% fared better. Following California was Texas at 5.2%, New York at 5.1% and Florida at 5%.

And average weekly wages were high in California. It ranked No. 4 at $1,572, topped only by Washington, D.C., at $2,139, Massachusetts at $1,637, and New York at $1,587. Texas was No. 14 at $1,284 and Florida was No. 22 at $1,186. The national wage was $1,294.

Bottom line

It’s a decent bet that California’s wage dip is largely due to the state’s late revival of its leisure and hospitality industries.

Remember, these businesses remained throttled by pandemic limitations well into the middle of 2021. And a hiring spree in low paying industries can depress a statewide average.

This federal jobs study has yet to release its industry-by-industry results for the spring quarter. But for the year ended in March, California’s leisure and hospitality industries added 432,000 jobs – 30% growth – equal to one-third of all California hires. Average wages were $665 vs. $1,644 across all industries.

California wages rose at a 1% annual rate as of March, but take away the leisure and hospitality jobs and the rate rises to 2.3%.

This statistical debate aside, the surge in low-paying positions means California’s huge job growth has diminished economic clout. And meager pay in leisure and hospitality work raises all sorts of questions about how these employees can financially survive in this high-cost state.

Not to mention how inflation wipes out wage gains at all pay levels. California’s Consumer Price Index was up 8.4% in the year ended in June.

Local-local

How the state’s 10 largest jobs market fared in the year ending in June, by this math. Wages dipped in Bay Area counties …

Los Angeles County: $1,435 average weekly wage, up 2.5% in a year with 241,967 new jobs or 5.7% growth.

Orange County: $1,420 wage, up 2.3% in a year with 78,523 new jobs or 5.1% growth.

San Diego County: $1,420 wage, up 3.2% in a year with 82,073 new jobs or 5.8% growth.Related Articles

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Santa Clara County: $3,262 wage, down 7.1% in a year with 50,809 new jobs or 4.8% growth.

San Bernardino County: $1,092 wage, up 3.6% in a year with 41,445 new jobs or 5.3% growth.

Riverside County: $1,049 wage, up 2.3% in a year with 44,410 new jobs or 5.8% growth.

Alameda County: $1,730 wage, down 0.9% in a year with 32,700 new jobs or 4.3% growth.

San Francisco County: $2,897 wage, down 15.1% in a year with 60,889 new jobs or 8.9% growth.

Sacramento County: $1,387 wage, up 3.7% in a year with 26,924 new jobs or 4% growth.

San Mateo County: $2,888 wage, down 7.2% in a year with 20,452 new jobs or 5.1% growth.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at jlansner@scng.com

 

 

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