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Nearly 80 percent of Hollywood assistants and other support staffers made less than $50,000 in 2020 and over one-third made less than $30,000, a new survey reveals.
The numbers were published on Monday in the second #PayUpHollywood survey of pay and work conditions among the entertainment industry’s support staff, which over 1,000 individuals who worked in those roles between June 2019 and December 2020 contributed to.
Angelenos who make under $53,600 and New Yorkers who make under $51,600 are considered “cost-burdened” by median rent standards, according to a 2019 Freddie Mac study. The U.S. Department of Housing and Development defines “cost-burdened” as families “who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing” and “may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.”
The survey from the grassroots movement that began in the fall of 2019 as a hashtag and has since helped prompt an industry-wide conversation about unlivable wages in pipeline jobs also reports on the workforce’s particular financial challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half of all support staffers surveyed said they took gigs outside of assistant work to pay cost-of-living expenses between June 2019 and December 2020. Over 19 percent, meanwhile, reported leaving Los Angeles or moving back in with family or friends because of “lost income from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For those who retained jobs amid the pandemic, expectations remain high in the office, support staffers say: Over one-quarter of respondents whose hours were cut due to the pandemic said the amount of work they were expected to perform remained the same. About a third of respondents who kept their jobs during the pandemic mentioned that their workload had increased since COVID-19 broke out. And asked if they were expected to respond to work requests in a timely manner outside of traditional work hours, over 77 percent of respondents said they were.
Nearly 60 percent additionally said their employers were not offering to reimburse them for additional costs they were encountering as a result of working from home during COVID-19, such as increased utilities and power bills and buying their own lunch. And over half of support staffers said they had not asked for reimbursement for overtime or expenses “for fear of negative repercussions.”
Interestingly, a slightly lower portion (37.5 percent) of support staffers reported that family or friends were giving them financial aid for cost of living expenses than survey respondents did in 2019 — in that year, nearly half of assistants said they were receiving financial aid from their parents alone.
Since the #PayUpHollywood movement erupted a year and a half ago, five agencies (CAA, ICM, UTA, WME and Verve) have increased their hourly rate for assistants, and the Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund, co-created by the #PayUpHollywood coalition, raised over half a million dollars to provide support staffers who were laid off during COVID-19 with $1,000 grants.
The movement’s survey additionally documents the mental health toll of the pandemic on support staff, with about 78 percent of assistants saying work conditions during the time period surveyed has led to an increase in anxiety, nearly half reporting an increase in depression and over 30 percent saying they saw an uptick in insomnia. Still, nearly 77 percent of respondents said they didn’t feel comfortable taking time off to treat their mental health.
Of the 1,014 workers surveyed, about 77 percent were white, while around 10 percent were Latinx and Black, respectively. Nine percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, less than one percent were Indigenous/First People and around 3 percent were Middle Eastern/North African, with less than 2 percent classifying themselves as “other.” A little over six percent identified as “a Person with Disabilities.” Regarding the large majority of respondents who reported making less than $50,000 a year, the survey’s authors write, “Studios, companies, and the executives who keep support staff rates and salaries at this unlivable level are complicit in the racist and prejudice behaviors that bar people from underrepresented groups from succeeding in entertainment.”
Action items that employers can take to improve work conditions for support staff, authors say at the conclusion of the survey, include committing “to a minimum of 3 percent yearly raises to keep up with the cost of living for all support staffers,” reimbursing staffers for office expenses they are now paying for at home and offering a stipend for healthcare expenses if the employer does not offer health insurance, as well as conducting company-wide surveys of support staffers to determine unique challenges.
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