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A Hidden Crisis: Underemployment in Silicon Valley

April 22, 2016

In one of the most prosperous regions in the country, far too many working people are barely scraping by.

Just released, our new report, A Hidden Crisis: Underemployment in Silicon Valley's Hourly Workforce, reveals an explosion of part-time work that helps drive the poverty that has persisted despite the economic boom.

The Opportunity to Work Initiative would help part-time workers in San Jose get access to more hours on the job so that their paychecks can cover the bills.

The report, coauthored with the Center for Popular Democracy and the Fair Workweek Initiative, shows that part-time work in San Jose has shot up from 26% to 43% of the hourly workforce - 64,000 working people - just in the last decade, bucking national trends. And these jobs leave workers struggling to make ends meet:

  • 77% of these workers are paid less than $15 an hour.
  • 58% of their households are rent-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their total household income for rent.
  • 45% lack access to job-based health insurance.
  • 25% are on Medi-Cal and 11% are on food stamps.

This crisis of underemployment disproportionately affects women, who make up 63% of hourly part-time workers, and people of color, who comprise 69% of this workforce.

The Opportunity to Work Initiative, the first of its kind, would require large employers here in the nation's tenth largest city to offer additional work hours to current qualified workers before hiring new staff to fill the need.

With recent victories in the Fight for $15, the minimum wage is starting to catch up, but working people can't make it on $15 an hour if they aren't getting enough hours on the job. Policies regulating work schedules haven't kept up with the ways in which employers are restructuring employment and shrinking the work week.

These trends exist in the broader context of corporations making work more and more insecure - not only through unstable schedules, but also through the use of subcontracting, temp work and Uberized "gigs," which are widespread in and catalyzed by the tech industry.

This speaks to the core reason that communities, workers and faith came together to create Silicon Valley Rising, which launched the Opportunity to Work Initiative. Silicon Valley Rising is about working people rising up - to inspire industry to build an inclusive middle class in this region, and to organize for change through public policy and through a voice at work.

We must unite the fight for fair wages, the fight for fair hours and all fights for better jobs to make Silicon Valley a national model for how the new economy can generate shared prosperity.