How big is the problem of wage theft?

One way to look at it is how much workers try to recover in unpaid wages. 

Last year California workers filed nearly 19,000 claims totaling more than $338 million in stolen wages, according to a database provided by the Labor Commissioner’s office.

The number of wage theft claims are down but their value has grown. In 2020, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported workers were filing 30,000 claims a year on average, totalling more than $320 million annually. Workers were recovering about $40 million, or about one-eighth, of those claims, the LAO said.

The California Chamber of Commerce said most businesses pay workers fairly, that wage theft claims are a fragment of a percent of California’s $1 trillion-a-year payroll. Economists who study the issue say wage claims data doesn’t tell the whole story because many workers don’t report the violations.