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Young workers are an essential part of the workforce who contribute substantially to local economies. But in cities like Los Angeles, the soaring cost of living means that making ends meet can be especially difficult for young workers. They earn less than previous generations, face higher education costs, and are concentrated in service sector jobs. Many employers rely on youth to supply cheap and temporary labor, while adults often perceive these early jobs merely as rites of passage in a way that justifies their precarious conditions. Framing these jobs as transitional or solely for young people undermines these forms of labor as real work. This study aims to highlight the experience of young people who work and to challenge clichés about young workers. We frame young people as workers in order to connect the experiences of all workers and to affirm youth work as real work. Our research focuses on workers between the ages of 18 and 29 in retail and food service, the two largest employers of young people in Los Angeles County and an integral part of the region’s labor landscape. Our findings are based on multiple methods, including 559 surveys, 30 interviews, government data sources and an extensive literature review. This project utilizes a research justice lens that aims to center the experience, and position, of young workers and student researchers as experts.

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