Reframing Perspectives on Who’s Helped, Hurt by Minimum Wage Hikes

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to news outlets about the impact of California’s new wage law on fast-food chains as well as smaller businesses. The law sets a $20 minimum hourly wage for fast-food workers at chains with 60 or more restaurants nationwide. But the impact is also felt by local ethnic restaurants and other small businesses, which must compete to retain workers. “These grassroots businesses are part of the glue that holds communities together, and they’re what give the community an identity,” Tilly told the Los Angeles Times. He also spoke to USA Today about the wage hike’s effect on consumer prices and hiring practices. “The big critique of minimum wages is ultimately it’s a job killer, that it hurts the people that you’re trying to help,” but data from the last three decades has not shown those effects, Tilly said. “We do have to think about how to help people. But to do that by hurting other low-income people doesn’t seem like the right strategy to me.”


A President’s Economic Record Is ‘Heavily Dominated by Luck’

Two United Press International stories about the economic records of Joe Biden and Donald Trump called on UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly for insights. Tilly assessed the economic principles surrounding measures such as tax cuts and infrastructure investments, but also pointed out that the role a president plays in the fiscal health of the country is often overstated. “We tend to give presidents too much credit or blame,” he said. “Most of what is going on in the economy is not something the president can control.” The United States is one cog in a global economy that can be roiled by war, political turmoil, weather emergencies and catastrophic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. ”The economic record of a four-year period is heavily dominated by luck, good or bad,” Tilly said.


Heated Debate as Cal State Union Votes on a New Deal

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to LAist about a tentative deal to settle a strike by California State University faculty. The union representing 29,000 coaches, counselors, lecturers, librarians and professors will vote on the agreement this week, and many are torn over whether they should support the deal or hold out for better terms. “Heated debate among membership is a good thing. Democratic unions with engaged memberships are healthier for it,” said Tilly, an expert on labor markets who also spoke with student media about the strike. Tilly noted that the agreement includes additional raises for the union’s lowest-paid members. “That’s something that unions don’t always attend to but is really important,” he said. “We have growing inequality. And in any workplace, the people at the bottom are the people that are struggling the most, and the fact that the union put a priority on that and won that is really a very positive thing.”


On the CSU Picket Line, Anger Over Pay Gap

An LAist article on a strike by California State University faculty called on Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly for insights on equitable pay. The strike by the union representing 29,000 coaches, counselors, lecturers, librarians and professors led to a tentative agreement after one day. However, many of the union members remain indignant over the salaries awarded to top executives — including the CSU chancellor’s compensation package, which is worth nearly $1 million and includes a $96,000 annual housing allowance. The stark pay gap between workers and executives is an issue across many labor sectors, Tilly said. “I think it’s a disgrace that the gap is that big. But I would not put that just on the CSU,” he said. “CEO pay is completely out of control. I think that it sort of spilled over to higher education, with the private higher education institutions in the lead.”



Chris Tilly on the Impact of Rising Minimum Wages

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to the New York Times for a story about West Hollywood’s minimum wage — at $19.08 an hour, the highest in the country. Many West Hollywood businesses complain that high labor costs put them at a disadvantage compared to competitors in neighboring communities. Recently, workers in several California industries have seen significant pay raises, including fast-food workers, who will soon make a minimum wage of $20 an hour. Tilly, who studies labor markets and public policies that shape the workplace, said research shows that gradual and moderate increases to the minimum wage have no significant impact on employment levels. “The claim that minimum wage increases are job-killers is overblown,” Tilly said. But he added that there are possible downsides to dramatic changes in pay scales. “Economic theory tells us an overly large increase in the minimum is bound to deter businesses from hiring,” he said.


When Personalized Service Collides With Staffing Cuts

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to Forbes about staff cuts at Petco, whose business model relies on drawing customers into brick-and-mortar stores for services such as grooming, training and veterinary care. The staffing reductions come as Petco announced that it would be far less profitable this year than previously expected. “It’s ironic because Petco, like lots of other retailers, is saying our competitive advantage is we have stores where you can actually talk to somebody and they know your pet’s name,” said Tilly, co-author of  “Where Bad Jobs Are Better: Retail Jobs Across Countries and Companies.” “But it’s completely at odds with what they’re actually doing with their staff.”


Tilly Navigates California’s Shifting Labor Landscape

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to the California Sun podcast about the state’s shifting labor dynamics. High-profile strikes, concerns about inflation and the emerging role of technology in the workplace have raised the visibility of worker rights campaigns this year. “The cost of housing, of health care, of college tuition have risen on trajectories that are so out of sync with everything else, including pay,” Tilly said. One experimental approach to addressing these issues is a plan to raise the minimum wage for many fast-food workers in California to $20 an hour and create a nine-member council empowered to make future wage increases. “Having some space where labor interests and management interests and public interests can all sit down at the table and hammer out what might be a good way to go, I think that’s a good thing to do,” Tilly said. “If places like California don’t lead, the prospects for the country look a lot grimmer.”


Tilly on Labor Actions Spreading Across State and Nation

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to CNBC about labor actions across California — 55 in 95 locations that commenced just since the beginning of 2023. In Los Angeles, striking Hollywood writers and actors have joined city employees and hotel and hospitality workers on the picket line in what some are calling a summer of solidarity. Union representatives in the state say they are being contacted by organizers from around the country who are seeking guidance on stepping up their own labor actions. “I think California is ahead of the country, but it’s pointing to a crisis that’s likely to happen nationwide,” Tilly said.


Tilly Sees a Leadership Opportunity in California’s Population Decline

Chris Tilly, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, commented in a New York Times feature weighing whether the Golden State has lost its luster as population growth has leveled off in recent years — declining from its high of almost 40 million residents — in the midst and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The article cites data from the state’s finance department that projects a possible population stagnation for decades to come. Tilly said America has always had a frontier mentality, but perhaps that should be reimagined.  “Maybe it’s time for us to grow up and realize we live in a world of limits,” he said. “That could be a level of maturity. If California is in a position to lead the country and come to terms with its limitations on growth, that could be a way California could still be in the lead. Which could really be an interesting twist.”


Tilly on Working Conditions in the Retail Sector

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to Boston Globe Magazine about working conditions in the retail sector, particularly at supercenters that attract consumers with discount prices made possible in part by keeping employee wages low. “In the 1960s into the early 1970s, working in retail really was a decent job,” said Tilly, co-author of “Where Bad Jobs Are Better: Retail Jobs Across Countries and Companies.” That changed due to a number of factors, including the increasing desirability of part-time positions. “Retailers figured out they could offer half the wages and none, or some, of the benefits,” Tilly said. Now, “the dominant model has been a low wage, high turnover, low benefits and increasingly crazy schedules.” Market forces, including pandemic-era labor shortages, have pushed retailers to improve working conditions, but those gains could be reversed if employers regain the advantage.