Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Low-wage jobs are taking over the American economy

January 27th, 2015 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonWhat do you say if you’re opposed to raising the minimum wage, but don’t want to seem completely heartless? For many Republican lawmakers, the answer is some version of this: “The minimum wage is a starting wage. It’s how you gain the experience you need to move up to higher wages.” Problem is, pay rates that are too low to live on or raise a family on are not a just-starting-out phenomenon in the U.S., as a new report makes crystal clear. Low Wage Nation starts with a conservative definition of “living wage,” setting it at $15 an hour, even though that’s enough to live comfortably on in only a few states. Despite that:

  • A large proportion of workers are not earning living wages: Nearly two of five existing jobs pay less than $15 an hour.
  • Nearly half of new jobs are low-wage jobs: About 48 percent of projected national job openings do not pay $15 or higher. In analyzing individual states, that percentage ranges from 35 percent (Massachusetts) to 61 percent (South Dakota).
  • There are not enough living wage jobs to go around: Nationally, there are seven times more jobseekers than there are projected jobs paying $15 or higher, leaving workers seeking better wages with few options.

The fastest-growing occupations are low-wage jobs that contribute to this trend: “Among the top 10 occupations with the most projected job openings, just one has a median wage greater than $15 an hour. The four occupations with the greatest projected number of job openings are in retail and food service, with median wages ranging between $8.81 and $10.16 an hour.” The upshot is that the vast majority of people looking for work aren’t going to find jobs that pay a living wage because those jobs do not exist.

This is just one of the reasons it’s not enough to say “I want people to have something better than the minimum wage” while opposing an increased minimum wage. The American economy is like a game of musical chairs, and there will be nowhere near enough good-job chairs to go around as long as chair availability is determined by corporate CEOs. That’s why the government needs to step in to improve the situation dramatically.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Laura Clawson is Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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