Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to Grocery Dive and Business Insider about the growing labor shortage, which comes as many retail employees are demanding improved working conditions. “Consumer demand is expanding faster than people are able and willing to go back into the labor force,” Tilly explained. “I don’t think we’re at a point where workers have permanently gained the upper hand, but I would be cautious about saying exactly when the power is going to shift back more to employers.” In the grocery sector, Tilly recommended that employers market their positions as opportunities for growth and advancement, in addition to offering higher wages. “Back when retail was a relatively desirable job, part of what made it that way was you actually could have a retail career, and it was not just a very small number of people who became supervisors and managers and took that path to the top,” he said.
A UCLA study published today shows that hot weather significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries on the job, regardless of whether the work takes place in an indoor or outdoor setting.
The report is based on data from California’s workers’ compensation system, the nation’s largest.
“The incidence of heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke definitely go up on hotter days,” said the study’s lead researcher R. Jisung Park, an assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “But what we found is that ostensibly unrelated incidents — like falling off a ladder or being hit by a moving truck or getting your hand caught in a machine — tend to occur more frequently on hotter days, too.”
By comparing records from more than 11 million California workers’ compensation claims from 2001 to 2018 to high-frequency local weather data, Park and his co-authors isolated the impact of hotter days on the number of injury claims.
The study shows that on days with high temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6% to 9% higher risk of injuries than they do on days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s. When the thermometer tops 100, the risk of injuries increases by 10% to 15%.
Those findings are particularly alarming in the context of climate change, which is expected to produce more high-temperature days each year. The researchers estimate that high temperatures already cause about 15,000 injuries per year in California.
“Heat is sometimes described as a silent killer,” said Nora Pankratz, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But if you look into the data and do the statistical analysis, you find that heat has a significant impact on mortality and health outcomes.”
It’s not surprising that hot weather would lead to injuries and illness among workers in predominantly outdoor industries such as agriculture, utilities and construction. But the data consistently show that industries in which most people work indoors are affected as well. In manufacturing, for example, days with high temperatures above 95 degrees have an injury risk that is approximately 7% higher than days with high temperatures in the low 60s.
“A lot of manufacturing facilities are not air conditioned,” said Stanford University postdoctoral scholar A. Patrick Behrer, the study’s other co-author. “Because you’re inside, you don’t necessarily think about the temperature as being a major threat.”
The reality is that overheated workers face numerous risks, regardless of where the work occurs.
“Heat affects your physiology,” Park said. “It affects your cognition. It affects your body’s ability to cope. It seems possible that what we’re observing in the data for these workers is that they’re more likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment.”
The researchers found that heat-related workplace injuries are more likely to be suffered by men and lower-income workers. In addition, younger people suffer more heat-related injuries, possibly in part because they’re more likely to hold jobs with greater physical risks on construction sites, in manufacturing plants or at warehouses.
For an office worker at a computer desk, nodding off on a hot summer afternoon is unlikely to cause an injury. “But if you have a huge chainsaw in your hand, you’re not in a great situation,” Park said.
Among the paper’s other conclusions:
- The number of heat-related injuries actually declined after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces on days when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
- The financial costs of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million and $1.25 billion per year in California alone, considering health care expenditures, lost wages and productivity, and disability claims.
- Inequalities in the labor market are exacerbated in part by the fact that low-income communities tend to be situated in hotter parts of the state. People in the state’s lowest household income tier are approximately five times more likely to be affected by heat-related illness or injury on the job than those in the top income tier, the study found.
The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Park is associate director of economic research, provided funding for the study. It is available now through the Institute of Labor Economics, which disseminates working versions of potentially influential research prior to publication in academic journals. Park previewed the findings July 15 during testimony at a Congressional hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
The new study echoes the results of a 2019 study that focused on how extreme temperatures raise injury risk in Texas and in the U.S. mining industry. Park, whose prior research includes a finding that student learning is negatively impacted by warm temperatures, said there has been “an explosion of research just in the last five to 10 years that illustrates, using data, the serious consequences of climate change for health, productivity and economic growth. This likely adds to that urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”
Pankratz got involved in the study while working at UCLA Luskin as a postdoctoral scholar, having previously researched the impact of heat on businesses while working toward her Ph.D. in the Netherlands.
Worldwide, she said, there is growing interest in the concept of adaptation — the pragmatic changes that can be made by governments and businesses to cope with the reality of climate change.
“For a long time, the focus has been on mitigation — what can we do to prevent climate change,” she said. “But as it becomes more and more obvious that there is policy inertia on mitigation, it’s important to think about what we can do to adapt and to work as well as possible in a warmer world.”
The study authors, all of whom have backgrounds in economics, realize that the desire to protect workers from heat may be complicated by economic reality.
Behrer said policymakers could stipulate that workers not be exposed to the heat on days above 100 degrees, for example, without proscribing a specific strategy to be used by individual business owners.
“Then firms have the option either to use air conditioning or come up with some other method of climate control for their facilities,” he said, noting that some might change work hours or shorten the work day during heat waves. “It allows them to decide the most cost-effective way for them to meet the objective of reducing workplace injuries.”
A new report by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative examines unemployment figures for Latinas as well as changes in the number of Latinas in the U.S. labor force since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The analysis also examines the reasons for Latinas’ exit from the labor force, including three main drivers:
- Latinas are disproportionately employed in leisure, hospitality and related low-wage industries that were particularly vulnerable to pandemic-related closures.
- A lack of access to education and training for higher-wage opportunities disincentivizes Latinas’ participation in the labor force overall.
- Latinas are disproportionately responsible for family care obligations versus Latino men, and they are more likely to stay at home than U.S. mothers of other racial backgrounds. That burden was exacerbated during the pandemic because of the closure of schools and day care centers.
“A strong economic recovery that prepares us for a prosperous future is dependent on a stable Latino workforce made up of both men and women,” said Kassandra Hernández, a research analyst at the initiative and a co-author of the report. “Yet this analysis clearly shows that Latinas are being left behind, which could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.”
Before the pandemic, Latinos were expected to make up the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor force over the next decade, with women in particular driving that trend, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The UCLA analysis found that between 2019 and 2029, the number of Latinas in the workforce is expected to grow by 25.8%, far outpacing other demographic groups. The growth of Latinas in the labor force is expected to be nearly nine times the growth rate among white women.
The analysis also found that Latinas experienced the highest unemployment rates at the start of the pandemic — with a record high of 20.2% unemployed in April 2020. After that, unemployment rates for Black men and women were generally higher than they were for Latinas, but Latinas’ unemployment rates remained consistently higher than the national average and were almost two times those of their white counterparts throughout the year. As of December 2020, 9.1% of Latinas were unemployed, versus 5.7% of white women.
Declining unemployment figures published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in recent weeks have obscured a more complex picture of Latinas in the workforce. For example, the UCLA study found that Latinas dropped out of the workforce at a higher rate than any other demographic group. From March 2020 to March 2021, 2.7% of Latina workers dropped out of the labor market — almost double the 1.7% drop among white women workers during the same period. The study noted that Latinas’ unemployment rate has leveled off somewhat, in part because previously unemployed Latinas have dropped out of the labor force altogether.
“Over the course of this pandemic, we have seen women of color struggle much more than white men, often because of their overrepresentation in low-wage sectors and because of their roles as primary caregivers to their families,” said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, the initiative’s research director and a co-author of the report.
“As the country enters an economic recovery, we now have the opportunity to address the immediate needs of these women and to create a system that will address their needs in the long term. Providing better access to child care and skills training that provides opportunities for economic mobility would go a long way toward ensuring not only jobs but dignified work for women of color.”
In quantifying the loss in labor for Latinas relative to other groups, the UCLA report provides evidence that inequities that existed before COVID-19 remain. Returning to pre-pandemic conditions in the U.S. workforce will still leave millions of Latinas without access to true economic opportunity and social mobility, which ultimately would diminish the nation’s long-term competitiveness. Among the report’s recommendations to policymakers:
- Increase the minimum wage
- Strengthen the social safety net by increasing child care support, introducing mandatory paid family leave and expanding the child tax credit
- Strengthen skills training and education programs to create greater access to higher-wage careers in which workers are less susceptible to losing jobs due to automation
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly was featured in a New York Times article about the increasing popularity of online grocery shopping services like Instacart. In 2020, online grocery sales rose 54%. The technology needed to fulfill orders is costly for stores, and the workers who pick customers’ items off the shelves often feel the pressure of being timed and tracked to monitor their efficiency. “The guinea pig for this is warehouse workers,” said Tilly, explaining that many of the technologies for online grocery shopping and picking are adapted from warehouses. He predicted that facilities designed specifically for online orders will eventually be expanded as the current system is creating an additional financial strain for grocers. “There is a constant search for how to make this cheaper, more efficient and, in many cases, as a transition to something longer term,” Tilly concluded.
A new book by Sanford Jacoby of UCLA Luskin analyzes the reaction of the U.S. labor movement to financialization over the past half-century. In “Labor in the Age of Finance: Pensions, Politics, and Corporations from Deindustrialization to Dodd-Frank,” Jacoby describes financialization as a transformative economic and political force that has ebbed and flowed over time. “It was, and is, associated with inequality and with robust stock markets,” said Jacoby, distinguished research professor of management, public policy and history. “Financialization waxed during industrialization, waned during the New Deal and expanded again under neoliberalism.” Jacoby noted that labor unions in the United States have shrunk since the 1970s, as has their economic clout. Jacoby’s study focused closely on the relationship between workers and shareholders who, by the 1990s, were dominated by large institutional investors such as pension plans, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. He explained that the vast holdings of public corporations, and the ability to coordinate their interests, changed the balance of power: less for workers and unions, but more for investors. “The irony is that unionized workers are more likely to be covered by traditional pension plans,” he said. “It was through these plans that labor sought to bolster its organizing and political power, and, sometimes, to check the influence of corporate executives.” The power of shareholders to extract value from firms was, and remains, a key source of income and wealth inequality, Jacoby observed. But the recent political atmosphere has changed the dynamic among investors, executives and workers, he said. For more than 40 years, the winners have been executives and owners — sometimes both, sometimes only one of them. “Workers usually have lost,” Jacoby said. “If they are to gain a fair share, they will need help from unions, and unions will need help as well.”
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly joined KPCC’s “AirTalk” in an episode about decreasing unemployment levels in California. The number of people seeking jobless benefits has fallen steadily all year, but the economy is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. As restaurants and businesses plan to open back up to maximum capacity on June 15, many employers are struggling to get enough employees to return to work. “The labor market and the economy have been in a deep freeze” over the past year and a half, said Tilly, who predicted that there will be some points of friction as the economy reopens. “Many workers are not rushing to go back to work, either because they are still burdened with child or other dependent care, they have their own health concerns, or wages are not sufficient,” he said. But he added that markets have ways of balancing themselves out. “When wages increase, workers are going to materialize.”
Global Lab for Research in Action Director Manisha Shah co-authored a Medium article about the unintended consequences of policies meant to protect sex workers. “Sex work is work. And evidence shows that when it is treated as such, everyone benefits,” wrote Shah and Global Lab intern Rachel DuRose. Research shows that decriminalization of sex work leads to a decline in incidents of abuse and rape, sexually transmitted infections and sex trafficking. Shah, a professor of public policy, explained that sex workers “are becoming victims of the very policies meant to protect them,” with increased levels of rape in communities that have banned the purchase of sex as well as increased prevalence of STI symptoms. The authors called on lawmakers and government leaders to decriminalize sex work. “Only when the community and leaders understand that sex work is work, can positive change at the local, federal and international level be achieved,” they concluded.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impending closure of a Ralph’s grocery store that serves a large Jewish community. The Pico-Robertson market, which has an extensive kosher section, is scheduled to close in May after the Los Angeles City Council voted to require large grocery stores to pay workers an extra $5 an hour for about four months as compensation for working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pending shutdown has sparked fierce debates on social media over who is to blame: parent company Kroger or city politicians. “It’s unusual for a business to pull out and just selectively pull out,” said Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman and county supervisor in Los Angeles. “They’re walking away from a community that’s been loyal to them.” The article also cited Zev Hurwitz MPP ’18, who started an online petition to keep the Westside market open.
Providing citizenship to all unauthorized immigrant workers in the United States would add at least $1.5 trillion to the American economy and $367 billion in federal and state tax revenue over the next decade, according to a new UCLA study. By comparison, granting citizenship only to the members of that group who are considered “essential workers” — including in agriculture, retail and construction — would generate an additional $1.2 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product and $298 billion in tax revenue over the same time frame. Granting citizenship only to people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, would generate $112 billion in GDP and $28 billion in tax revenue; and granting citizenship only to recipients of Temporary Protected Status would account for $62 billion in GDP and $16 billion in tax revenue. The study’s publication comes as Congress and the Biden administration are considering ways to move forward on immigration reform. In the past two months, multiple standalone bills have been introduced to address specific aspects of immigration policy. Some proposals would grant citizenship to certain groups of unauthorized immigrants — those covered by DACA or Temporary Protected Status, for example — while excluding others. The report’s authors note that excluding certain groups of immigrants from earning citizenship would mean forgoing billions of dollars in economic output and tax revenue, and the potential for creating tens of thousands of jobs. The study is a collaboration among the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
A UCLA-led study of informal laborers in six countries found that, despite differences in local laws and cultures, domestic workers and construction workers are often exploited by their employers because government labor protections are weak or not enforced. However, the study also found that the laborers share common organizing strategies that can improve their work conditions and their lives. Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly co-authored the report, which looked at informal employment in China, India, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and the United States. The report focused on workers from two sectors with distinct gender differences: construction and domestic work. These informal workers, who are most often migrants, typically do not have access to protection by standard employment laws and social security-like programs. “This research confirms that informal workers can successfully organize and win rights,” Tilly said. “It offers lessons on strategy for workers in these two sectors and beyond, and it helps us understand how and why organizing approaches differ across sectors and countries.” Tilly pointed to the United States as an example of a country where domestic workers continue to be excluded from core labor standards such as meal breaks, overtime pay and an eight-hour workday. By contrast, construction workers were covered by labor laws in every country in the study, yet they were often victims of exploitation — unless they mobilized to demand protections. The report is a collaboration between the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State. — Citlalli Chávez-Nava
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