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Cruel Summer

Economic Impacts of Extending Unemployment Benefits to Public K-12 Classified Workers in the State of California

April 21, 2015 / By Patrick Burns, Daniel Flaming and Yvonne Yen Liu
Underwriters: California State Council of Service Employees, SEIU Local 1021, SEIU Local 221, SEIU Local 521, SEIU Local 99

Most California school employees in classified positions such as teacher assistants, childcare workers, janitors, and office clerks struggle to support their families with incomes that are often inadequate to pay for food, housing and health care. The median annual earnings of classified workers in 2012 was only $20,700, well below self-sufficiency standards.

When schools across the Golden State close for summer vacation, happy children pour out of classrooms into the sun for the warm months. However, for many adults who work to keep the schools clean and the students fed, summer is a cruel time when there’s no income. This is because classified education workers in elementary, secondary, and unified public school districts are not eligible for state unemployment insurance (UI) while school is on recess. And while schools’ certified employees – administrators, teachers, librarians and nurses – earn middle class incomes and benefits that can last through the summer recess, schools’ classified workers do not. During the 2012-13 school year, there were over 284,000 of these education workers employed by public school districts across the state.

Cruel_Summer_Chart1_2015Classified education workers comprise dozens of different occupational titles and job descriptions that help our schools function, including paraprofessional teaching assistants, nurses’ aides, office secretaries, clerical staff, custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. Most are low-wage workers who struggle to support their families on incomes that are often not sufficient to pay for food, housing and health care. Frequently, one or more of these basic needs is not adequately met.

Three-quarters of California classified education workers employed in public school districts are women, and two-thirds have some level of college education, including 16 percent who have a college or graduate degree. A third of classified workers have children in their homes whom they support. A third are the sole income earners in their households. Twenty-five percent of all classified workers live in housing that is rent burdened, overcrowded or both. ‘Rent burdened’ households pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing expenses, such as rent.

Across all California public school districts, we project that classified education workers would claim over $153.1 million of benefit payments if eligible for UI. If these workers were added to existing UI recipients in education, the total outlay for benefits would increase by 76 percent.

The additional $153.1 million in the pockets of classified workers would positively impact the state’s economy. Added spending by these workers would stimulate $187.3 million in sales for California businesses, and in the process would support over 1,100 year-long jobs at retail and grocery stores, repair shops, restaurants, doctors’ offices, movie theatres and other businesses. The beneficial economic impacts would include $118.2 million of value-added activity by California businesses, as well as a $12.1 million boost to state and local tax revenues.

The poverty rate for classified education workers employed in California public school districts – and therefore for those in their households who depend on them – is 9 percent. If UI eligibility is extended to classified education workers, their UI benefit amounts would range roughly from $49 to $138 per week, or from $350 to $986 for the average school recess period. This additional income would increase workers’ typical household incomes by 3.5 to 5.8 percent, and is enough to lift almost 2,000 California classified education worker households above the poverty threshold.

Seven key findings from this study document the acute need of classified workers for Unemployment Insurance benefits while they are unemployed over the summer break and the returns for California from providing those benefits:

  1. More than 284,000 education workers do not receive income during summer months when school is out of session.
  2. Almost ten percent of school workers live in poverty, more than in most other California industry sectors. Many are women with children in their household. A third are sole breadwinners for their family. A quarter struggle to pay for rental housing.
  3. Expanding California’s state unemployment insurance program to cover classified school workers would provide an additional $153.1 million in income for them, stimulating economic activity that would create an additional $187.3 million in wealth for the state.
  4. Every dollar paid in unemployment insurance would generate $1.22 in economic stimulus for California.
  5. Extending UI benefits would create over 1,100 jobs in California.
  6. Public coffers would receive $12.1 million more in state and local tax revenue.
  7. Almost 2,000 education workers would be lifted out of poverty.

Press Coverage

LAUSD Strike: SEIU Local 99 workers ask for better pay and working conditions
BY Morgan Owen, LA Downtown News (Apr 4, 2023)

Massive strike shuts down LAUSD, leaving 420,000 students out of school
BY Grace Toohey, Howard Blume, Andrew J. Campa, Los Angeles Times (March 21, 2023)

2018-19 California state budget includes Summer Bridge Fund for classified school workers
BY SEIU Local 99 (June 2018)

The struggle of classified education workers (Op-Ed)
BY Patrick Burns, Capitol Weekly (October 5, 2017)

It’s a “Cruel Summer” for California’s school workers (Op-Ed)
BY Patrick Burns and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles Sentinel (May 21, 2015)

Asistente de maestro vende tamales para sobrevivir en el verano
BY Yurina Melara, La Opinión (April 28, 2015)

Report urges ending ‘cruel summer’ for CA classified school workers
BY Craig Clough, LA School Report (April 21, 2015)

Photograph by Anne Davis 773, "Memories Are Made of This." Uploaded to Flickr Creative Commons on March 8, 2010, taken on March 7, 2010. Protected by the CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED license. Economic Roundtable has not changed, remixed, transformed, or built upon the material, and is not using it for commercial purposes.

Photograph by Anne Davis 773, “Memories Are Made of This.” Uploaded to Flickr Creative Commons on March 8, 2010, taken on March 7, 2010. Protected by the CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED license. Economic Roundtable has not changed, remixed, transformed, or built upon the material, and is not using it for commercial purposes.


Area of Work: Economy, People
Tags: Economic Impacts, Economic Ripple Effects, School Districts, School Workers, Seasonal, Unemployment, Unemployment Insurance