Being a Hollywood assistant has always been a tough gig, but the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it tougher on the industry’s thousands of support staffers.
According to the second annual #PayUpHollywood survey, which polled over a thousand support staffers, nearly 80% of respondents reported earning less than $50,000 in 2020, a 14.7% increase from the prior year. And over a third of respondents reported less than $30,000 in income in 2020 — a marked increase from the 11% who made that much in 2019.
Earning less than $53,600 a year in Los Angeles qualifies as being “cost-burdened” by U.S. Department of Housing and Development, which defines it as paying “more than 30 percent of their income for housing” and potentially having “difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.”
Notably, about 37.5% of survey takers are financially supported by friends or family to cover living expenses, and over 19% have had to move in with family, friends or move out of state due to lost income from the production shutdowns that resulted from the pandemic’s early months.
Even so, over a quarter of respondents who had their hours cut were expected to perform the same amount of work as they had pre-pandemic. And a third said that their workload had increased during the shutdown. And over half of respondents who are working from home said they had to bear the cost of office expenses that had previously been covered by the companies they work for; of that, nearly six in 10 were not offered any compensation for those additional expenses.
The #PayUpHollywood movement emerged in the fall of 2019 as a way to address the system inequities that assistants and other industry support staffers face in the workplace, not to mention the verbal and physical abuse that many endure from their Hollywood bosses. TV writers Liz Alper and Deirdre Mangan co-founded the group, organizing their efforts around the hashtag #PayUpHollywood after a ScriptNotes conversation between John August and Craig Mazin about assistant pay inequity sparked a public conversation among Hollywood’s support staffers on social media.
In the year or so since #PayUpHollywood gained traction, UTA, CAA, WME, ICM Partners and Verve have raised the minimum hourly wage for agency assistants. But the pandemic prompted agencies to lay off assistants and freeze agents’ expense accounts.
“We have seen reports of companies ending the COVID pandemic pay cuts for their top earning executives while continuing to cut hours, transfer work expenses, and increase the workload of the assistants and support staff of this industry, if not lay them off entirely,” said Alper in a statement. “What steps are studios and companies taking to offer the same protection to their support staffers as they are to their highest executives?”
Among other notable data from the survey:
Of respondents who has remained in one position for multiple years, 59.3% said they were not able to negotiate a pay rate higher than minimum wage
45.4% said they had been asked by an employer or supervisor to misrepresent the hours worked on their timesheets
43.1% feel anxious about reporting workplace violations or underpayment
Between June 2019 and now, 76.5% do not feel comfortable taking time off for their mental health, and 45.3% do not feel comfortable taking time off or physical illness
49.4% are experiencing job burnout
Read the full survey results here.
The next steps, say the group’s organizers, is tracking the progress the entertainment industry makes in address low wages, workplace abuse and hiring bias.
Variety's Elaine Low contributed to this post.