Long underpaid and overworked, Hollywood assistants are facing even deeper financial burdens due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey. Many assistants reported having to do the same amount of work for lower pay and incur pandemic-related costs, exacerbating existing inequities and barriers to entry in the entertainment industry.
The second annual survey from #PayUpHollywood, released Monday, found that nearly 80% of respondents were paid $50,000 or less in 2020, and 35% made less than $30,000. Both are below $53,600, considered the minimum livable salary in Los Angeles, meaning that someone would be able to spend 30% or less of their income on housing.
The organization conducted the survey of about 1,000 assistants from various parts of the entertainment industry in November and December.
TV writers Liz Alper and Deirdre Mangan co-founded #PayUpHollywood in 2019 to advocate for higher wages and better working conditions for assistants and support staff, a common entry point for people trying to make it in Hollywood. While these jobs provide a route for moving up the ladder, they often involve working long hours for little pay and few, if any, benefits and worker protections. These inequities were further illuminated by a survey of assistants that the group conducted in fall 2019. The results of that survey showed these jobs are often only open to people from overrepresented and privileged backgrounds because they favor people with existing connections to the entertainment industry and with families that can financially support them — reinforcing the idea that the industry is exclusive and inequitable.
As Alper told HuffPost in December, “If you’re not paying people a living wage so that anyone can come in and be able to sustain themselves on the salary that they make, then we’re not going to be a diverse industry.”
In the 2020 survey, more than a third of respondents said they are “currently receiving financial support from friends or family to cover reasonable living expenses.” Over half of the assistants in the survey said they had to incur their own expenses for working from home during the pandemic, and of those, 59% said their employer did not reimburse them for those expenses.
About 25% of the assistants who said their hours were cut because of the pandemic “were expected to perform the same amount of work as they had pre-COVID,” and 33% said their workload increased because of the pandemic.
The survey also revealed that assistants’ jobs take a toll on their mental health: Nearly half said they were “currently experiencing job burnout,” and another third said they were “not currently experiencing job burnout but have in the past.” Most respondents said they did not feel comfortable taking time off for their mental health, and a significant number said they feared retaliation for speaking out about potentially exploitative or abusive practices at their jobs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, about 77% of the survey’s respondents identified as white, showing how these inequitable working conditions contribute to a lack of diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.
To begin to correct some of these inequities, #PayUpHollywood recommends that employers set $53,600 as a minimum salary for assistants, with at least 3% annual raises to keep up with increases in the cost of living. Because assistant jobs can differ depending on the kind of role or employer, the group also encouraged studios, agencies, production companies and other institutions to conduct their own surveys to better understand assistants’ working conditions, and use those findings to enact their own reforms. In the absence of wider industry-level changes, the group urged direct supervisors to take steps to change their workplace culture and practices.
“Change comes by chipping away at old foundations in hopes of laying down something new,” the group wrote in the survey’s main findings. “Every single person who commits to helping, even in some small way, is one more person helping to lay down the new foundation.”
Read the full list of findings here.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter