Tilly on Gap Between Salary Expectations and Reality

A USA Today story about a survey showing that college students expect to make more than $100,000 in their first post-graduation jobs cited Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly, an authority on labor markets and equity. The actual average starting salary for new graduates is $55,260, the story said. But experts say that, in some parts of the country, six-figure incomes are necessary to cover the basic cost of living, which has greatly outpaced the growth of wages and salaries over the last five decades. “The federal minimum wage is, in inflation-adjusted terms, much lower than it was in the early ’70s,” Tilly said. “Wages and salaries have not kept up with housing costs, have not kept up with higher education, tuition costs. And so that sort of disjuncture, that mismatch between the reality of costs and their reality of pay, I think is distorting the way that a lot of young people are looking at the world.”


‘A Sense of Real Possibility for the City of L.A.’ Faced with a monumental housing crisis, we must think creatively and push harder, Councilwoman Nithya Raman tells a UCLA audience

By Mary Braswell

Nithya Raman was elected to the Los Angeles City Council on a platform focused on tackling the region’s dual crises of homelessness and sky-high housing costs. Sixteen months after taking office, she came to UCLA to provide an update on how the fight is going.

Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, Raman said the key to sheltering unhoused Angelenos is a culture of saying yes to creative living solutions of all types, as long as they offer dignity and privacy — not just a bed in a crowded facility.

“That could be motel or hotel rooms, that could be tiny homes, that could be shared apartments where you have a separate bedroom and a shared kitchen — any place where you have a room with a door,” Raman said. “When you offer someone who is experiencing homelessness the ability to go to a room with a door, the experience is really transformative.”

The successes and shortcomings of pandemic-era housing interventions was one topic in a wide-ranging talk by Raman, who came to UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall on April 14 as part of the University of California Regents’ Lecturer program.

In a conversation moderated by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly, Raman spoke about Los Angeles’ complicated history of land use, which led to the city’s current struggle to provide its residents with safe and affordable housing.

And as an urban planner by training, she stressed the importance of reliable data — including the results of a countywide homeless count, due to be finalized this summer — to gauge the impact of programs and investments and map a path forward. 

“What I’m seeing is something really different from what I saw when I was out of City Hall, which is a moment when people are actually getting indoors,” said Raman, who represents L.A.’s District 4, stretching from Los Feliz to Reseda.

“But we don’t have the data to show, did they actually move in enough numbers so that we chipped away at this massive amount of homelessness that we faced in our district? Or did we not do enough during this period of the pandemic?

“I really want to make sure that we’re moving forward with that data in hand and with a sense of real possibility for the city of L.A.”

Raman’s lecture was part of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s commemoration of its 50-year anniversary. Her audience included several UCLA Luskin alumni, plus undergraduate and graduate students who may aspire to careers in public service.

Ensuring that Los Angeles’ housing stock continues to grow to meet demand requires saying yes to many approaches all at once, she said.

Cities or nonprofits could lease entire buildings and rent each apartment to voucher holders. Lifting the requirement to include parking in a new development could lead to the construction of smaller, less expensive living spaces attractive to transit riders such as students and young professionals. And developers should be pressed to include more affordable units in high-end properties, she said.

“One of the ways in which we’ve increased affordable housing is actually by creating density bonus programs for market-rate development,” Raman said. “And yet, I hear you. It is galling to see homelessness on our streets and luxury apartments going up, right next to each other.”

Repeating a phrase used throughout the lecture, Raman said the city should push harder. Push to require more of developers who receive lucrative incentives. Push to streamline a permitting process that has put a drag on the construction of housing. And push to ensure that residents aren’t priced out of their own neighborhoods.

“You can build more while still being totally dedicated to protecting tenants who are currently in their housing. And we can do that if we try,” she said.

Raman, the first challenger in 17 years to unseat an incumbent L.A. City Council member, described her experiences working as an outsider to effect change from within the halls of government.

“It’s the daily struggle,” she said. “How do you operate within a system — many aspects of which you find fundamentally unjust — while still moving that system towards change?”

She spoke of choosing her battles, sometimes speaking out forcefully but other times opting for quiet diplomacy to push her top legislative priorities.

“The more people who come in that share a set of values around what L.A. can be and should look like, I think the less you’ll have to make those kinds of choices.”

With their overwhelming support for taxes and bond measures to pay for the fight against homelessness, the people of Los Angeles have proclaimed a “widespread sentiment of ‘yes,’ ” she said.

“We all actually want it. I feel like that’s what every single conversation I have with people shows,” Raman said. “We can build it, we can build it right. We can do this, we can do it right. We can treat people with dignity and help them to get indoors.

“Everyone says, ‘Hell, yes, that’s what I want.’ ”

View photos and video of the lecture. 

Tilly Offers Tips for Employee Retention

In a New Hope article, Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly offered three tips on how to keep businesses fully staffed in a challenging labor market. Health and safety concerns during the pandemic and complaints about poor working conditions have left many industries struggling to fill positions. Many workers have refused to settle for unsafe and stressful jobs that don’t pay enough. According to Tilly, “attracting good employees comes down to pay and respect,” so businesses must offer enough money to employees, as well as respectful treatment and appropriate safety conditions. He also recommended “selling the job during the interviews” and considering changes to make the job more attractive. To maximize employee retention, he recommended investing time and effort into hands-on training for new employees. “There is nothing more frustrating to a new employee than being thrown into a retail situation without enough background,” he said. 

Tilly on Job Insecurity Even Amid a Labor Crunch

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to the New York Times about “just-in-time scheduling,” a labor practice based on customer demand that leads to great fluctuations in employee work hours. While some part-time workers prefer the flexibility of this model, many say it leaves them with too little income or an erratic schedule delivered on short notice. Nationwide, companies are complaining that they can’t fill jobs. Offering more full-time jobs would create a more stable work force, but many businesses are resistant to doing so, believing that the market will correct itself. Tilly said the increased reliance on part-time workers, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries, began decades ago, in part because of the mass entry of women into the work force. “A light bulb went on one day. ‘If we’re expanding part-time schedules, we don’t have to offer benefits, we can offer a lower wage rate,'” he explained.

Tilly Analyzes Restructuring of Best Buy

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to Retail Dive about the internal reorganization of Best Buy following a recent large wave of layoffs. The company has been struggling to compete against generalist stores, such as Walmart and Target, as well as Amazon. Over the last decade, Best Buy said it prized a “human-centric approach” focusing on the company’s front-line workers, but it recently cut many full-time employees in favor of part-time staff who are expected to be knowledgeable about all areas of the store. “It’s clear that the entire store-based consumer electronics industry has faced incredible pressure from online sales,” Tilly said. “The fact that Best Buy survived and bounced back is miraculous, when a lot of other companies were going down.” The pandemic made competition even tougher by shifting more things online. “If you’re just competing with online sales, what is the difference between Best Buy and Amazon?” Tilly asked.

Tilly Examines Impact of Inflation

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a Sacramento Bee article discussing the impact of inflation on the 2022 midterm elections. Prices have increased 5.4% in the last year, one of the steepest rises since 2008, and California now has the highest per-gallon gas price in the country. According to Tilly, higher prices at the pump hurt agriculture-heavy regions like the San Joaquin Valley more than any other areas of the state. “A lot of the agricultural valley workforces are relatively low-income, which means that they’re ill-equipped to deal with higher prices,” Tilly explained. Businesses struggling to handle the costs of inflation are more likely to raise the costs of their goods and less likely to increase the wages of their workers. “If I’m an agricultural worker, and possibly even an agricultural worker who’s dealing with supply chain problems in their own industry, then I’ve got a problem,” he said.

Tilly on Newfound American Labor Power

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly joined NewsNation Now to discuss the labor strikes going on across the country. “We’ve seen growing inequality in this country since the 1970s, so it makes sense for workers to point that out at a time when they have some leverage to do so,” Tilly said. The gap between the CEO and the worker has consistently grown in recent decades. Tilly explained that the power of unions depends on labor shortages and the supply chain, and workers now have more power than they have had in years. “That power is real, but we don’t know how long it will last,” he said. “If workers get [paid] more, that will contribute to inflation, but if what that means is that workers are getting a bigger piece of the pie, I would agree that that’s a good thing,” Tilly concluded.

Tilly Explains Labor Shortage Patterns

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a Vox article discussing labor shortages as many low-wage workers demand better working conditions. Nearly 16 million Americans quit their jobs between April and July, highlighting the mental and physical fatigue experienced by many, as well as the desire to improve work environments. “For a lot of people, it’s been traumatizing,” Tilly said. Essential workers in California experienced a 30% increase in deaths in the first 10 months of the pandemic, according to an analysis of public data. Many low-wage jobs lack benefits such as health insurance and sick leave, and the work itself can be physically and emotionally taxing. “People settled for that, but they weren’t necessarily thrilled with those jobs,” Tilly explained. He also pointed out that any increases in hourly wages are often countered by inflation. “The labor shortage giveth, and the end of the labor shortage taketh away,” Tilly said.

Tilly on Boost in Workers’ Bargaining Power

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in an Associated Press article about the growing strength of union workers. A nationwide worker shortage spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has given union workers an opportunity to demand higher wages and better working conditions. “Low-end jobs more typically have a labor surplus,” Tilly said. “But there are also shortages at higher skill levels, including jobs where there are chronic shortages like nurses, machinists and teachers.” Tilly predicted that, as the job market starts to slow in coming months, union workers may lose some of their newly claimed bargaining power. “As long as the economy is growing — and growing at a relatively vigorous pace — that’s going to continue helping workers, and for that matter, dealing unions a better hand, too,” he explained. “But we are not necessarily in a new era that’s going to look exactly like it has for the last few months.”

Tilly on the Intrusiveness of AI Technology

Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a Fox32 news segment about the growing use of artificial intelligence technology in the food industry. Many stores such as McDonald’s and Amazon Go are testing drive-thru and AI invisible checkout systems. Tilly explained that these new technologies have an impact on both consumers and the workforce. “To some extent, workers are being replaced by this technology,” he said. “At the same time, the expansion of services like curbside pickup means that workers are being added.” While the workforce may be balanced out by the expansion of these new technologies, Tilly noted that the services can be very intrusive for consumers. “Artificial intelligence is always on, always tracking what people are doing,” he said. While the Amazon Go model has currently only been implemented in small stores with many sensors and cameras, Tilly predicted that technology will most likely allow companies to expand these services in the long run.