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Re:Work Institute for Worker Justice

After the Bell: A Portrait of High School Workers in California

By: Sophia L. Ángeles, Lucero Herrera, Vivek Ramakrishnan, Andrew Rock, Janna Shadduck-Hernández

In 2021, over 150,000 California high schoolers were employed at some point during the year. On top of having to navigate the personal and academic challenges of high school, these young workers play a significant role in California’s economy, especially in the retail and restaurant service industries. Understanding which high school students work, how much they work, and how much they are paid is critical for comprehending California workplace conditions.

After the Bell: A Portrait of High School Workers in California, the latest brief released by the UCLA Labor Center as part of its “State of Young Workers in California” research initiative, analyzes the demographics and work conditions of high school students who work using 2017–2021 American Community Survey data. This brief is an extension of the UCLA Labor Center’s report “California’s Future is Clocked In: The Experiences of Young Workers,” which explored the experiences of all California young workers ages 16–24.

Among other findings, the report finds:

  • Students of color comprise 65% of all high school workers, and nearly 1 in 2 high school workers are Latinx (46%).
  • 1 out of 10 high school workers were born outside of the United States. Facing greater institutional barriers than US-born workers, immigrant workers—and especially undocumented workers—have lower educational attainment and are more likely to work in dangerous occupations.
  • Most high school workers in California work in the retail and restaurant service industries. The sector with the next largest concentration of high school workers was arts, entertainment, and recreation, at 9%.
  • Typical high school-age job seekers (ages 16–18) had the highest rate of unemployment: 14.7% in 2022 compared to 6% for the 19–24 age cohort.
  • 3 in 4 high school and college workers earn low wages.