Our Youth Need Economic Justice Not Warehouse Exploitation
The Inland Empire is a region whose economic lifeblood is increasingly dominated by the heavy polluters in the logistics and warehouse industry. When the Norton Air Force base was decomm
issioned following the end of the Cold War, it became the civilian San Bernardino International Airport. This airport has become the nexus for an emerging logistics industry whose political and economic influence influences entire local and regional communities as it does elected officials.
As of December 2020, 141,000 workers in the Inland Empire were employed in the logistics industry. However the vast majority of these jobs are of low quality and poor compensation, particularly given the gargantuan profits made by the employers and entities who employ them. The CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos has an infamous net worth of 200 billion dollars and Amazon itself is worth over 1 trillion dollars. This is particularly irksome given Amazon’s refusal to provide a base hourly pay that would provide a living wage for those with children, in a society that claims to care for family values.
Furthermore, according to a Brookings study from 2019, more than half of the region’s population is under 35 years old. People of color make up 68% of the population as well. A joint study done by UC Riverside and UC Los Angeles found that the warehouse industry employs an overwhelmingly Latino, young, and undereducated population. A low estimate in the study indicates that a whopping 77% of workers are Latino, with large segments of immigrant workers. Between 39% to 57% of these workers have less than a high school diploma. 23% to 33% are between the ages of 17 to 25. Such a population is ripe for exploitation given the power balance between the out of town warehouse owners and local workers.
Yet the poor behavior of the industry owners does not just harm their workers alone. The entire community must suffer too. San Bernardino county endures the abomination of having the worst smog in the entire country according to the American Lung Association. Riverside county is an unfortunate second. This pollution does not just damage the looks of our horizon, it damages the looks of our lungs.
We therefore face a tremendous urgency in how community based organizations and movements handle these threats to our people. This is no mere class or race issue alone. The threat and reality of poor wages, oppressive working hours, and pernicious pollution, are all issues that strike at the intersections of how our young people are destitute. Accordingly, we all have a duty to advocate against poor workplaces so our youth of color, and especially our Brown youth flourish. This will not be an easy task and also requires the mobilization of young people into fighting for their own economic rights. Yet, our own work in ending the cradle to prison pipeline is not just a matter of stopping the school police and youth incarceration alone. It also means we have to fight for our youth as a class when they are *not* in school or incarceration. This means our workplace and economic rights matter too.