[Marxism] Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 28 06:48:14 MDT 2014

NY Times, April 28 2014
Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

WASHINGTON — The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and 
middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the 
sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls 
and fast-food restaurants.

In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That 
is the conclusion of a new report 
(http://www.nelp.org/page/content/lowwagerecovery2014/) from the 
National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, 
analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery.

“Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the 
job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the 
report’s author. “If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to 
stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — 
the question is, how do we make them better?”

The report shows that total employment has finally surpassed its 
pre-recession level. “The good news is we’re back to zero,” Mr. 
Evangelist said.

But job losses and gains have been skewed. Higher-wage industries — like 
accounting and legal work — shed 3.6 million positions during the 
recession and have added only 2.6 million positions during the recovery. 
But lower-wage industries lost two million jobs, then added 3.8 million.

With 10.5 million Americans still looking for work — the unemployment 
rate is 6.7 percent — employers feel no pressure to raise wages for 
those who are working. As a result, the average household’s take-home 
pay has declined through the recession and the recovery to $51,017 in 
2012 from $55,627 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

With joblessness high and job gains concentrated in low-wage industries, 
hundreds of thousands of Americans have accepted positions that pay less 
than they used to make, in some cases, sliding out of the middle class 
and into the ranks of the working poor.

That includes Connie Ogletree, a former administrative and executive 
assistant who now earns $7.25 an hour at a McDonald’s in Atlanta. “It 
was 40 years ago that I had my first fast-food job, at a Dairy Queen,” 
said Ms. Ogletree, 55. “This is my second.”

Ms. Ogletree is in school working toward a bachelor’s degree, in the 
hope of returning to a white-collar position. But in the meantime, she 
and her older sister have scrimped and saved to make ends meet on her 
meager earnings.

She said that she appreciated her job — many do not have one — but that 
she found the work tough.

“When you go into a fast-food restaurant, you want to be sure the people 
in the back are doing the best job they can,” she said. “You want them 
not to be worried about missing a day if they’re sick, to be able to go 
to a child’s play at school or a P.T.A. meeting. I’d like a vacation 
once a year, but my employer doesn’t offer that, or sick days.”

The National Employment Law Project study found that there were about a 
million fewer jobs in middle-wage industries — including parts of the 
health care system, loan servicing and real estate — than there were 
when the recession hit.

Economists worry that even a stronger recovery might not bring back jobs 
in traditionally middle-class occupations eroded by mechanization and 
offshoring. The American work force might become yet more “polarized,” 
with positions easier to find at the high and low ends than in the middle.

The swelling of the low-wage work force has led to a push for policies 
to raise the living standards of the poor, including through job 
training, expansion of health care coverage and a higher minimum wage.

President Obama has supported a Democratic proposal to lift the federal 
minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from its current level of $7.25.

“Nobody who works full-time should ever have to live in poverty,” Mr. 
Obama said on Saturday in his weekly address. “That’s why nearly three 
in four Americans support raising the minimum wage.”

Raising it to $10.10 would “lift wages for nearly 28 million Americans 
across the country,” he said. “We’re not just talking about young people 
on their first job. The average minimum-wage worker is 35 years old. 
They work hard, often in physically demanding jobs.”

But with congressional inaction stalling that proposal, many state and 
local governments have forged ahead on their own. States including 
Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, California and Rhode Island have 
raised their local minimum wages. And a total of 34 states are 
considering lifting their wage floors, while activists in other states 
are pushing for ballot referendums to do so.

“They’re actually getting the job done, so that workers get a raise,” 
said Thea Lee, the deputy chief of staff of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “The hope 
is that it creates momentum nationally and builds an activist base.”

But many Republicans oppose raising the wage floor while the economy 
remains weak. And many businesses staunchly oppose higher minimum wages 
because of the threat to their bottom lines.

The National Employment Law Project study found especially strong growth 
in restaurants and food services, administrative and waste services and 
retail trades. Those industries — which often pay wages at the federal 
minimum — accounted for about 40 percent of the increase in private 
sector employment over the past four years.

There has also been strong jobs growth in some high-paying industries, 
like professional, scientific and technical services — a category that 
includes accountants, lawyers, software developers and engineers. That 
sector accounted for about 9 percent of the private-sector job gains in 
the recovery.

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