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The State of Work in the Inland Empire Part II: Pandemic, Polarization, Inflation, and Investment (November 2023)

Executive Summary

This report provides a snapshot of the labor market and working conditions in the Inland Empire (IE). We document how changes over the last five years, including those related to investment, inflation, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have impacted workers’ employment outcomes, working conditions, and well-being. This analysis marries diverse perspectives from personal narratives from workers collected through in-depth interviews (collected in English and Spanish) with a vast array of quantitative data on labor market conditions.

Key Findings

First, with a median personal annual income of $36,747 in 2022, most jobs in the IE pay incomes that are insufficient for raising a family (Glasmier 2023; Center for Women’s Welfare 2023). Regional inequalities in employment and earnings persist. In nearly all industries, average earnings in the IE are lower across industries relative to the state and other Southern California counties. Jobs in higher-paying industries are also less common in the IE while jobs in lower-paying industries are more prevalent in the IE in comparison to the state and other Southern California counties. There is unequal access to good jobs by region, race, and gender. Within the region, inequalities based on educational attainment, race, immigration status, and gender further persist in terms of earnings as well as rates of poverty and unemployment.  

Second,  we find that the impacts of and recovery since the pandemic-related recession has been uneven. Overall, job growth in the IE has outpaced job growth in other regions and job postings were remarkably resilient during and after the COVID-19 recession. However, job growth has been concentrated in industries, especially transportation and warehousing, that tend to provide low-wage jobs. Other industries (or sectors) were harder hit by the pandemic-related recession and still recovering from this or declining in employment over time. Although unemployment rates remain higher among those without BA degrees, unemployment levels among those with BA degrees have not recovered from the pandemic-related recession to the same extent as for workers without BA degrees. 

Finally,  earnings have increased and poverty has declined since 2017. Housing costs, however, have risen more than wages and many workers in the region are unable to afford housing and experience overcrowded housing or other housing problems.  There has been a rise in earnings inequality since 2006 and though it has fluctuated in the intervening years, it appears to be rising again. Poverty rates remain relatively high in San Bernardino, and just above the poverty rates during the recession that began in 2007 in the US, California, and Riverside. Within the IE, there are also geographic disparities too, with higher concentrations of poverty found in the City of Chino, northeast Riverside/west of Highgrove, in the high desert region of San Bernardino County, and in the Coachella Valley.

The findings of this report underscore the importance of expanding and improving investments in higher-paying jobs and in educational and skill training opportunities in the IE. A spectrum of policy options is suggested to address this, notably advocating for increased public investments in public higher education, High Road Training Partnerships between training centers and high road employers, broadening apprenticeship and vocational training programs, and enabling lifelong learning and reskilling. Moreover, a strong emphasis on equity and accessibility in these educational and training initiatives is deemed vital to ensure that all members of the community, irrespective of their socio-economic standings or disabilities, can participate in the economic growth of the region. 

Furthermore, the report highlights the critical need for additional worker organizing and robust worker protections to safeguard the rights and welfare of workers, especially those in precarious employment conditions. The policy recommendations extend from increased protections for workers’ rights, to the endorsement of living wage policies and enhanced funding for labor law enforcement. In addition, the promotion of a green economy and sustainability through policies such as green job training programs, support for clean transportation, and climate resilience planning is emphasized. Comprehensive worker support policies covering affordable housing, healthcare access, and other wrap-around services are posited as essential elements for improving the overall quality of life for workers, thereby fostering a more robust, resilient, and inclusive regional community and economy.