On December 6th, members of SLU community gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by young adults in building the labor movement.
Despite the recent weakness of the U.S. labor movement, young workers are invigorating unions and other working-class organizations throughout the country, showing the promise of a new broad-based progressive movement. Social media-driven movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, along with the emergence of left political organizations and young candidates for local and national office, have also played an important role in sparking new organizing among younger workers. At the same time, student debt is skyrocketing, permanent full-time jobs are harder to find, unemployment and underemployment are prevalent among low-income young people and communities of color, and increases in housing/living costs far surpass increases in real wages for many young workers.
How are young adults building the labor movement in the face of worsening conditions? How are young workers in other movements influencing the political landscape? Are there fundamental differences in young workers’ outlook or analysis compared to previous generations? What are the primary challenges and obstacles they face given the changing economy and its more precarious job opportunities? What are the most exciting opportunities and partnerships that are being developed by young workers?
The conversation featured Arsenia Reilly-Collins, Jedidiah Labinjo, and Kim Kelly, and was moderated by Diana Robinson.
This month, the UCLA Labor Center and the Young Workers Project released a new report about young workers in the United States. Called “I am a #YOUNGWORKER,” the report is “a collective and participatory endeavor,” and involved the work of 60 students and young workers, including Murphy Institute student Mohammad Amin, who served as part of the Report Development Team.
A striking document, the report highlights the important —and precarious — role young workers play in local economies. It begins:
Young workers are an essential part of the workforce who contribute substantially to local economies. But in cities like Los Angeles, the soaring cost of living means that making ends meet can be especially difficult for young workers. They earn less than previous generations, face higher education costs, and are concentrated in service sector jobs. Many employers rely on youth to supply cheap and temporary labor, while adults often perceive these early jobs merely as rites of passage in a way that justifies their precarious conditions. Framing these jobs as transitional or solely for young people undermines these forms of labor as real work.
Seeking to “highlight the experience of young people who work and to challenge clichés about young workers,” 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 County and an integral part of the region’s labor landscape” and uses “a research justice lens that aims to center the experience, and position, of young workers and student researchers as experts.”