The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

Overall unemployment in state, LA County keeps falling, but some places still struggle

Walter Flores was unemployed for 8 months in 2014 but is now working in sales for Workforce Solutions in Compton
Brian Watt/KPCC

California's unemployment rate continued its decline in December, ending the year at 7 percent, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

But in Compton, Willowbrook and the Florence-Graham section of Los Angeles County, it remains about double that, data show.

“You might have work this week. But next week, you won’t have work,” said James Hicks, 36, 0f Compton. He's worked in warehouses through staffing agencies, but said the jobs have always been temporary.

Statewide, California has added jobs at a faster rate than the United States for three straight years, according to Robert Kleinhenz, Chief Economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. He pointed out the statewide unemployment rate is now where it was June 2008. 


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Small firms and nonprofits like KPCC struggle with technology's diversity problem

Mary Ann de Lares Norris is Chief Operating Officer of Oblong Industries. She brings her dog LouLou to Oblong's downtown LA headquarters.
Brian Watt/KPCC

KPCC recently reported on the tech world’s diversity problem. Technology firms face challenges in hiring diverse staffs of its coders, web developers and software engineers.

It’s also a challenge at nonprofits such as Southern California Public Radio,  parent of 89.3 KPCC, which has always sought to build a staff that reflects the region it serves. The section of that staff that develops the KPCC app and makes its website run is all white and mostly male.

But a small talent pool means the diversity challenge is even greater for nonprofits and even smaller tech firms.

“The first problem is that all of the people working for me are male,” says Alex Schaffert, the one female on KPCC’s tech team.  “I’m kind of focusing on maybe getting another girl into the mix.”

Schaffert can use the term “girl” because she happens to be the leader of the tech team:  KPCC’s Managing Director of Digital Strategy and Innovation. 


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Can Uber lower fares and have its drivers make more money?

For the first time, Uber will guarantee drivers an hourly wage of $20 an hour in Los Angeles, or $26 during peak times.
David Ramos/Getty Images

To keep demand high during the slower winter months, the ridesharing service, Uber, has cut fares by 20 percent in 48 markets – including Los Angeles and Orange County.

The company says a trip from West Hollywood to downtown will now be around nine dollars, instead of $11.

When Uber lowered prices in the past to muscle out competitors like Lyft and taxi services, passengers loved it but drivers have complained it puts an unfair squeeze on them, complaining their already low take went even lower.

Uber stresses the fact cutting fares actually helps drivers because they get more business. In a blog post, the company points to data from Chicago where fares dropped 23 percent last month compared to December 2013 while drivers' income increased by 12 percent.

But drivers have been skeptical whether volume can make up for the price drop. The company's claim that New York city drivers earn a median of $90,766 a year has been refuted. Slate talked to New York UberX driver Jesus Garay in October:


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LA residents need to make $33 an hour to afford the average apartment

Finding affordable apartments is especially tough in Los Angeles, where 52 percent of people are renters, according to a new study.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You need to earn at least $33 an hour — $68,640 a year — to be able to afford the average apartment in Los Angeles County, according to Matt Schwartz, president and chief executive of the California Housing Partnership, which advocates for affordable housing. 

That's more than double the level of the highest minimum wage being proposed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, which he argued would make it easier for workers to afford to live here. “If we pass this, this will allow more people to live their American Dream here in L.A.," Garcetti proclaimed when he announced his plan to raise the minimum wage to $13.25 by 2017. 

The $33 an hour figure is based on the average L.A. County apartment rental price of $1,716 a month, from USC's 2014 Casden Multifamily Forecast. An apartment is considered affordable when you spend no more than 30 percent of your paycheck on rent.


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LA and the $15 minimum wage: It all started accidentally at a Washington airport

David Rolf, International Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, stands in his downtown Seattle office. Rolf led the campaign to bring a $15 minimum wage to Seatac, Washington in 2013.
Ben Bergman/KPCC

As Los Angeles mulls a law that would raise the minimum wage above the current California minimum of $9 an hour, it's the latest city to jump on a trend that started as the by-product of a failed labor negotiation in the state of Washington.

The first city to enact a $15-per-hour minimum wage was SeaTac, Wash., — a tiny airport town outside Seattle. "SeaTac will be viewed someday as the vanguard, as the place where the fight started," the lead organizer of SeaTac's $15 campaign, David Rolf, told supporters in November 2013 after a ballot measure there barely passed.

Rolf never set out to raise SeaTac’s minimum wage, much less start a national movement. Speaking from a sparse corner office in downtown Seattle at the Service Employees International Union 775, which he founded in 2002, Rolf told KPCC that his original goal in 2010 was to unionize workers at SeaTac airport.


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