Most new jobs in L.A. County will be low-paying, report warns

Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created in L.A. County over the next four years, most of them low-paying, according to a report released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Most of the jobs added in the county by 2020 will pay below the median wage, the group said.

Office administration and food services will add the most positions to their ranks through 2020, combining for a total of about 93,000 new jobs, according to projections by the LAEDC, a nonprofit aimed at promoting business expansion in the region.

Those jobs do not require more than a high school diploma, and pay less than the state median household income. The county will gain only about 19,000 jobs in engineering, and manufacturing and machine operation, during the same period.

“We would like to see better job growth in high-paying, high-skilled jobs in order to provide career pathways for our residents,” said Christine Cooper, an economist at LAEDC who co-wrote the report.

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The report estimates that the county will add 346,000 jobs from 2015 to 2020, for an average growth rate of 1.5% a year. That projection would require the Los Angeles County economy to continue to grow almost as fast as it has in its recovery from the Great Recession.

A total of 469,200 jobs have been added in the county since the rebound began in February 2010.

Cooper said she thought employment could keep expanding that quickly because workers who gave up their search for jobs would start looking again, and the county’s population overall will continue to rise.

“There is a lot of slack, there are a lot of people on the sidelines,” Cooper said.

Los Angeles County may face a brain drain if it can’t figure out how to create more lucrative and advanced jobs.

A quarter of people aged 25 to 34 living in the county in 2014 had a bachelor’s degree, according to the LAEDC. That makes those young workers more educated than older residents. But a weak job market for their skills may prompt them to go elsewhere.

“We graduate the best and the brightest here and they will go to the best opportunity that’s available to them. We have lost many of them to Silicon Valley,” Cooper said.

But job markets may not look much different in other parts of the country.

“This is not a story about L.A. [County] being horrible and the rest of the country being wonderful; we are just a microcosm of what’s going on nationally,” said Alec Levenson, an economist at USC.

Average wages across the country have only inched forward every year for the last three decades, according to a 2015 report by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors. “This is the latest chapter in a continuing story about the hollowing out of the middle class,” Levenson said.

Part of the reason Los Angeles is producing lower-paying jobs may be that the county has a large immigrant population seeking blue-collar gigs, which disappeared during the great recession and have not come back in full force.

“It’s been a long, slow recovery, and part of the gain in the low end is because that’s where the losses were, it’s part of the cyclical economy,” said Chris Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, an economics consulting firm based in Los Angeles.

In any case, economists say many college graduates coming out of Los Angeles were always going to move elsewhere. The ones that stay will be snapped up by companies eager for high-skilled people.

“Most companies will tell you that the problem they have isn’t that they can’t find workers, it’s that they can’t find workers with the skills they need,” said Thornberg.

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Natalie.Kitroeff@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

12:38 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional comment and analysis.

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