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Tag Archives: low-wage work

Walmart checkout

Image: Walmart via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

By Herbert J Gans

One of the lesser known facts about the post-recession economy is that while new jobs are being created at near record levels, a significant number are bad jobs. No one knows exactly how many, but in April 2014,the National Employment Law Project, which measured job quality by industry wage level, reported that 44 percent of jobs created (pdf) between 2010 and 2014 were in lower wage industries, compared to 56 percent in mid wage and high wage ones.

The proportion of bad jobs was probably even higher since the study set the low wage floor two dollars above the current federal minimum wage. We also know that growing industries like health and other care as well as tourist related enterprises and many small manufacturing firms all pay minimum wages.

The trend may not even be new, for there is some evidence that the rising proportion of bad jobs goes back as far as the 1970s. John Schmitt and Janelle Jones of the Center for Economic Policy Research estimate the ability and willingness of employers to create good jobs has decreased (pdf) by a third since 1979.

More important, the forces behind the creation of bad jobs remain in place. Global competition with low wage countries, outsourcing of American jobs, increasing computerization and robotization, the political influence of corporate and Wall Street firms and the weakening of unions continue. Moreover, many industries and occupations that depend on low wage workers are still expanding. Consequently, the economy may continue to produce too many bad jobs even when it is also producing record profits for many employers and their shareholders.

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Walmart-Logo_color_0Walmart made headlines recently by announcing it is raising its base wage rate to $9 per hour (going to $10 per hour in 2016). In response, Gary Silverman of The Financial Times suggests that “Walmart stirs hopes of a Fordist revival,” referring to Henry Ford’s famous implementation of a $5 day in 1914 – double the going rate at the time. Similarly, Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, argues that Walmart’s “wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to” rising real wages and declining inequality for nearly three decades after the Second World War.

While the comparison between Walmart and Ford is apt in some respects, unfortunately, the broader institutional context of today’s postindustrial, globalized, financialized economy is far different from that of the post-WWII years. As a result, the move by Wal-Mart is unlikely to signal a broad reversal of the current trajectory of the American labor market, which is characterized by stagnating wages and rising inequality.

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all i want is a jobJobs policy in the US has evolved over the years as its focus has changed from job creation to job training to job placement. Placement however only works if there are jobs for the unemployed to be placed in.

With few jobs available in recent years due to the economic crisis, the weakness of the current focus has been exposed. What America needs, Mary Gatta argues in her new book, is a new jobs policy. ‘All I want is a Job!‘ should be ‘required reading for anyone interested in low wage work, labor markets, social welfare policy and economic development’ says Stephanie Luce reviewing the book for Gender & Society.

wage_theftby Corey Robin

Midterm elections are like fancy software: Experts love them, end-users couldn’t care less. But if the 2010 elections are any indication, we might not want to doze off as we head into the summer months before November. Midterm elections at the state level can have tremendous consequences, especially for low-wage workers. What you don’t know can hurt you — or them.

In 2010, the Republicans won control of the executive and legislative branches in 11 states (there are now more than 20 such states). Inspired by business groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, they proceeded to rewrite the rules of work, passing legislation designed to enhance the position of employers at the expense of employees.

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AppelbaumUnfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman (Cornell, 2014).

This book analyzes the history of California’s decade-old paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which began operating in 2004.  Based on original fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, it analyzes the impact of paid family leave on employers and workers in the most populous state in the U.S., and explores the implications for crafting future work-family policy for other states and for the nation as a whole.

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The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy

By Erin Hatton

(This article was originally published in the New York Times. The original version can be read here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/the-rise-of-the-permanent-temp-economy/?emc=eta1)

Kelly girl

Politicians across the political spectrum herald “job creation,” but frightfully few of them talk about what kinds of jobs are being created. Yet this clearly matters: According to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support themselves and their families.

A quarter of jobs in America pay below the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,050). Not only are many jobs low-wage, they are also temporary and insecure. Over the last three years, the temp industry added more jobs in the United States than any other, according to the American Staffing Association, the trade group representing temp recruitment agencies, outsourcing specialists and the like.

Low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become the norm. But for some reason this isn’t causing a scandal. At least in the business press, we are more likely to hear plaudits for “lean and mean” companies than angst about the changing nature of work for ordinary Americans.

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Eduardo Porter had a nice piece in the New York Times two days ago entitled “Unionizing the Bottom of the Pay Scale.” His article dovetails with my recent post here on how mainstream economics has little to say about the the problem of growing structural demand for low-skill service workers.

In Porter’s words:

“To improve the lives of American workers, most economists argue, we might do better by focusing on education to equip them with the skills to perform more productive, better-paid jobs.

But this argument overlooks the fact that the McJob is hardly a niche of the labor market reserved for the uneducated few. Rather, it might be the biggest job of our future.”

He goes on to note that “In countries where more than half of workers belong to a union, only 12 percent of jobs pay” low-wages.

For readers who have not been following this union drive, Steven Greenhouse also had a story on it last week, in which he quoted eminent labor sociologist Ruth Milkman on the problem of organizing such a transient workforce.