Southern California added 4,800 fast food workers in May despite rising wages – Pasadena Star News

Southern California fast-food restaurant bosses added 4,800 employees in May, hitting a new record, offering a first glimpse of how a controversial minimum wage increase for many fast-food workers could reshape the ‘industry.

My trusty spreadsheet review of the Employment Development Department’s employment statistics revealed 362,000 workers in limited-service restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. This represents an increase of 4,800 for May and surpassed the previous all-time high of 359,400 recorded in July 2023.

Now, these employment figures are not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. So we looked at hiring trends in May 2015-2019, a more normal time before the coronavirus upended the economy. The May 2024 increase was nearly double the industry average of 2,760 hires over those five years. And, by the way, the local fast food restaurant’s workforce increased by 5,200 in one year.

This increase in staffing follows the $4 increase in the minimum wage in April, to $20 for workers at the largest fast food chains. Industry executives are furious at the financial burden, saying rising wages will force them to charge more for food and cut staff. Monthly employment data does not take into account hours worked in the fast food industry.

Robust spending

Yes, a month or so of hiring patterns is by no means a complete story. Rising wages certainly pose an additional hurdle for fast-food bosses operating in an already costly economic climate.

Perhaps this first glimpse of rising wages and hiring is a Southern California quirk. In the rest of California, fast food had 383,600 workers in May, up slightly by 1,300 in a month and below the 3,580 average hires in 2015-19. These bosses have reduced their workforce by 2,200 people over the past year.

Today, local fast food staffing may remain stable as its critical variable – the health of the overall economy – remains relatively strong. And it’s driving Southern California consumers to dine out.

Consider employment at all other Southern California restaurants for the month of May. Full-service restaurants and foodservice operations had 342,100 workers, an increase of 3,100 in a month, compared to an average of 1,760 hires for May in 2015-19. Employment in this niche is up 4,200 in one year.

And if you want to see more signs of robust consumer spending, consider job growth in another slice of Southern California’s hospitality industry: hospitality, entertainment or leisure workers. These companies employed 269,800 people, an increase of 4,700 in one month compared to an average of 2,580 hires in 2015-19. These bosses created 5,300 jobs in one year.

Look, the local economy remains in growth mode. Across all industries in Southern California, 7.99 million people were employed in May, an increase of 19,800 month-over-month and 63,100 year-over-year.

Industry fluctuations

Employment increased in May in seven of Southern California’s 11 other key industries, ranked by month-over-month change…

Government: 1.04 million workers, an increase of 4,100 in one month compared to an average of 2,400 hires in 2015-19. That’s an increase of 24,000 over the past year.

Construction: 373,100 workers – 2,900 more in one month compared to an average of 2,660 hires. Up by 2,600 per year.

Personal services: 270,200 workers – 2,700 more in one month compared to an average of 1,000 hires. Up by 7,700 per year.

Professional-business services: 1.12 million workers – 1,800 more in one month compared to 1,500 cuts on average. Down 20,500 per year.

Retail : 727,600 workers – up 1,500 in one month compared to an average of 1,100 hires. Down 1,300 per year.

Financial: 357,200 workers – up 1,200 in one month compared to an average of 1,140 hires. Down 2,100 in one year.

Logistics Utilities: 800,400 workers – an increase of 1,100 in one month compared to an average of 3,140 hires. Down 1,700 in one year.

Information: 219,900 workers – 200 fewer in one month compared to 860 cuts on average. Down 15,600 in one year.

Health/social services: 1.32 million workers – down 1,100 month-on-month compared to an average of 3,840 hires. Up 58,300 in one year.

Manufacturing: 563,400 workers – down 1,400 in a month compared to an average of 460 hires. Down 10,700 in one year.

Private education: 212,600 workers – down 5,500 over the month compared to an average of 3,260 cuts. Up 7,600 in one year.

Jonathan Lansner is the Southern California News Group’s business columnist. He can be contacted at

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