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#PayUpHollywood Poll: 24% of Assistants Driven to Increased Substance Use (EXCLUSIVE)

Around one in four assistants said the entertainment industry’s working conditions have prompted them to increasingly use drugs, alcohol and other substances, according to a #PayUpHollywood survey of over 1,500 support staffers shared exclusively with Variety.

Beyond the already significant burdens of long hours, low pay, and sky-rocketing living costs in Los Angeles, the pressures of the job are weighing on the mental health of many at the lowest, most vulnerable rung of the entertainment ladder.

According to the poll — which surveyed assistants at studios, agencies, production and development companies, in-house production and post-production departments — 93% of those who responded reported that their job has led to an increase in anxiety, and 66% said they have been experiencing increased feelings of depression as a result of their work experiences.

Some of the survey’s findings point to gender and racial disparities within the industry. (Around 70% of the assistants surveyed were women, in contrast with the upper echelons of the industry, and 78.21% were white.) Meanwhile, other statistics point to issues which haven’t been as widely discussed.

#PayUpHollywood previously shared with Variety that 72 assistants reported that a boss or supervisory colleague had thrown an object at them at work. (Most often a stapler.) That number is now 104. Equally troubling is that more than half felt anxious about reporting workplace violations for fear of being fired or losing future opportunities, potentially an indicator of unreported or under-reported workplace abuses.

In terms of the pay issue at the heart of #PayUpHollywood’s fight, the survey revealed that 64.41% of respondents are paid less than $50,000 before taxes, with almost 11% paid less than $30,000. #PayUpHollywood co-founder Liz Alper said at the organization’s first official town hall on Nov. 24 that given the current cost of living in Los Angeles, an assistant would have to be paid $53,600 after taxes in order to not be rent-burdened, which means that housing costs encompass more than 30% of their income.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that 90% of the assistants who took the survey reported being rent-burdened.

“What the data shows is, despite record profits logged by studios this year, the entertainment industry across the board is refusing to pay assistants a living wage,” said Alper in a statement. “The paywall enacted here is tall, keeping out the dreamers and Hollywood hopefuls who do not come from wealthy families or historically privileged communities. And when millions of dollars are poured in FYC campaigns but 67.58% of assistants have to take on a second job to afford working their entertainment job, and 52% of assistants have to ask their families for financial help so they don’t starve, it should be a wake call for all us, that we have to stand up and speak out and say ‘This is not right, this is not acceptable, and this must change.'”

Job mobility in Hollywood has been another of the biggest concerns assistants have raised over the last few weeks, as Alper and #PayUpHollywood co-founder Deirdre Mangan have amplified the industry’s support staff concerns. Many assistants feel they have no path to promotion, and some have shared that their bosses have asked them to “prove themselves,” only for there to be “no carrot at the end of the stick.”

The survey’s results indicate those concerns are likely well-founded.

About 40% of respondents have been working as an assistant for 1-3 years, a typical period of time that one would expect to remain in an entry-level position. But 20% of those polled have been working as an assistant for more than 5 years, and 27% remain support staffers after 3-5 years in the role — challenging the long-held notion that being a Hollywood assistant offers a direct stepping stone to a higher-level career in the industry.

The vast majority of assistants who took the survey were between the ages of 25-34 and around a quarter were 18-24, two of the more expected age ranges for assistants. But not all support staffers are fresh-faced college grads: 95 respondents were 35-44, and 11 were aged 45-54, further highlighting a potential mobility problem for assistants in the biz.

#PayUpHollywood has yielded countless horror stories about the amount of hours assistants are being asked to work. 40% of survey takers said they work between 50 and 60 hours a week, and a not-insubstantial 15% reported that they work more than 60 hours a week. More than half of respondents said that they have not reported overtime or sought reimbursements for fear of negative repercussions.

Here are some other findings to note from the survey:

  • 7.27%, or 58, of those polled reported childcare as one of the tasks they have been asked to perform beyond their official duties.

  • One out of five respondents said they don’t feel comfortable leaving their desk to go to the bathroom at work.

  • 72.9% of respondents make between $500-$900 a week after taxes.

  • 30% of those surveyed work at a studio or network, roughly 20% at an agency or management company, and 20% at a production company.

  • 30% of respondents have been asked by their bosses to perform personal errands outside of work hours.

“Assistants are happy to pay their dues, but they deserve to be paid a living wage while they do it,” said Mangan. “With studios paying ten figures for For Your Consideration campaigns and agencies pushing for half-billion-dollar equity raises from IPOs, industry profits are at an all-time high. Can they really not spare an extra few hundred dollars a week so that the human beings who make their work possible can live safely and sanely?”

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