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The overall economy's been growing slowly, but there is one job sector that has actually grown consistently - leisure and hospitality. That's considered a sign that Americans have discretionary income and are willing to spend it. But many of the new jobs in this sector tend to be lower-paying and have few benefits. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: If you want to see a sliver of the new economy at work, all you have to do is go to a party in Beverly Hills.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Have a fantastic party.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Oh, wait. I left my phone in the car.
GLINTON: No, not on the inside - outside with the car parkers, the valets. This group is called Valet of the Dolls, and they're a mostly female group valet parkers in LA. And they agreed to let me tag along to show me the ropes.
JACQUELINE CAIN: You want to make sure that if it's automatic lights, leave it alone. If it's not, obviously, turn the lights off. And then we write down the location that we put it. And then you want to make sure you have the license plate. And then we run.
(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING)
CAIN: I like the exercise. (Laughter) How are you holding up?
GLINTON: You know, I've had better evenings.
CAIN: Yeah, this is about a seven-grade hill.
GLINTON: Back up the hill, Jacqueline Cain, a valet, says she's seen an uptick not just in the number of parties in Beverly Hill, but the size and opulence of the parties; things like parties for 1-year-olds, with valet services.
IFEOMA OKARA: Because when I was 1 - I don't remember what happened, but I know they didn't have a party for me. They go all out. They will get the jumpers, they will get the clowns, they will have valet for 1-year-olds. So - I think that's a bit extreme.
GLINTON: But that's new, right?
OKARA: I would say it's new. I mean, I'm not going to hate on it 'cause we get to work it. But to me, it's like, wow! (Laughter) That's not happening with my 1-year-old but that's - more power to them.
GLINTON: More parties means more women on the job. Actually, of the four valets at this party in Beverly Hills, two were just hired in the last month. Ifeoma Okara says it wasn't really hard to find a job when she started looking. She's in college but she supports herself, and she's trying to stack up the part-time jobs.
OKARA: Yeah, I mean, I was working at Macys for like, two years, two and a half years so - I'm about to get this other job that's like, a little - another retail job. So it really wasn't that hard to find that one, either.
GLINTON: These women start out making minimum age plus tips, which currently is $8 an hour in California. Gillian Harris is the owner of Valet of the Dolls, and she says she's on a bit of a hiring spree, not only for the holidays but in general.
GILLIAN HARRIS: What I'm seeing now more of right now are people who have no work whatsoever, and they're using this as something to do while they try to find something else 'cause they know this isn't enough.
GLINTON: Harris says people previously wanted to be valets while they held daytime jobs or went on auditions. That's not the case anymore.
HARRIS: I noticed that because we send our availability form out once a week. And so there will people, and they'll say - for a while, you know, a few weeks, they're saying they're only available Saturday and Sunday; and then all of a sudden, I'm getting emails where they're available all day, every day.
GLINTON: Following a recession, you can expect that these kinds of service jobs are the ones that might get added first.
SYLVIA ALLEGRETTO: The question is, how long is this going to go on? - because these jobs are lower pay, and they have fewer benefits than the jobs that were lost during the recession, on average.
GLINTON: Sylvia Allegretto is a labor economist, and she specifically studies wages at University of California, Berkeley. She says right now, more high-skill workers are trading down.
ALLEGRETTO: So you have people just kind of scrambling for work and sometimes, any work that they can get. And I think that's why you're seeing, for instance, minimum-wage workers being older than they used to be, and minimum-wage workers being a little more educated than they used to be - because folks simply can't find employment in the occupations that they once held.
GLINTON: Allegretto says it's not just how long until the higher-paying jobs return, but if they ever will. She says that question is one we just don't have an answer to yet.
Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Culver City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.