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September 02, 2012 1:18 PM Crap Jobs ‘R Us: new report documents the disappearance of mid-wage jobs

By Kathleen Geier

The invaluable National Employment Law Project (NELP) has published a depressing new report which documents the disappearance of mid-wage jobs in our economy and the fact that job growth is concentrated in low-wage jobs. Specifically:

— Lower-wage occupations constituted 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth.

— Mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22 percent of recovery growth.

The report defines mid-wage jobs as those paying median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13; they occur primarily in sectors like construction, manufacturing, and information. Low-wage jobs pay a median hourly wage of $7.69 to $13.83, and job growth in this wage tier has been concentrated in the fast-food and retail sectors.

The New York Times reports that this bifurcation is part of a long-standing trend, known as the “hollowing out” of the American economy. Government layoffs are probably accelerating the rate at which this is happening, but it’s been going on a long time:

This “polarization” of skills and wages has been documented meticulously by David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A recent study found that this polarization accelerated in the last three recessions, particularly the last one, as financial pressures forced companies to reorganize more quickly.

“This is not just a nice, smooth process,” said Henry E. Siu, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, who helped write the recent study about polarization and the business cycle. “A lot of these jobs were suddenly wiped out during recession and are not coming back.”

All of this is contributing to making an America an ever more profoundly unequal society. We’re not totally helpless in the face of these trends — as the folks at NELP point out, public sector cutbacks are making things a lot worse, and that’s something we do have direct control over. But I’m not betting on things improving there anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the ever-eager Republicans are, as always, helpfully paving the road to our dystopic hell: many of the workers they hired for their convention last week were paid below minimum wage. But hey — no worries! In an interview on Friday, Ann Romney made light of the $30 million offer to return to the private sector that her husband Mitt passed up in 2008:

Well, we’re used to kind of passing offers up like that. […] I always trust that Mitt can always make another dollar. Poor guy, he took no pay when he did the Olympics for three years and no pay when he was governor for four years.

Hey, you gotta love that gal’s grit, optimism, and can-do spirit in the face of hard times. And let that be a lesson to all you unemployed losers out there — I’m sure there are $30 million offers waiting for each and every one of you, too! Just keep your chin up, and when you’re down, think about that “poor guy” Mitt Romney, who wasn’t paid when ran the Olympics or served as governor of Massachusetts. The humanity! But he got through it — so can you!

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • POed Lib on September 02, 2012 2:37 PM:

    There are literally 100s of thousands of jobs in the US in which people make GOOD MONEY and which are filled by H-1B scabs from India and China. This program, which brings in scab labor to undercut the US labor market, needs to end. The H-1B IS NOT AN IMMIGRATION VISA. H-1Bs ARE NOT IMMIGRANTS. They are TEMPORARY LABOR. It is called the the H-1B Non-Immigrant Specialty Visa program. So, when you oppose it, this has NOTHING to do with immigration. These scabs are brought in and fill jobs that there are MANY AMERICANS WAITING TO FILL THESE JOBS. So, WHY THE PROGRAM? Simple. The employer can fill the job with a lower-cost worker.

  • c u n d gulag on September 02, 2012 3:37 PM:

    The sad reality is that these jobs will never come back.

    At least not unless THE FECKIN' GOVERNMENT (thanks to Conservatives) stops privatizing the living sh*t out of everything, decides that it needs to tax upper income at above 40%, and devolop a 20-30-year plan to rebuild and expand the infrastructure of this county, ie: highways, bridges, roads, railways, airports, side-roads, etc. - and pay workers a middle class, TAXABLE, wage while they do the work.

    Due to global warming, we'll have to work on rerouting water, and building water recycling plants. We waste WAAAAAY too much water directing water to cities, which will need to figure out better ways to recycle existing water, rather than tapping into the existing rivers and streams, which are drying-up due to rapidly depleting run-off from the lack of winter snow and ice build-up in mountains during the winters.

    And at the same time, pay for the expansion of green energy in all 50 states. For instance, energy from changing tides can be used as additional power in all coastal states, and states along The Great Lakes. Then there's the energy from plate tectonics and the resulting thermal energy.

    And also start a "Manhattan Project" to work on new alternative energy sources, that will replace oil, coal, and natural gas.
    And nuclear energy is OUT - at least as long as it's dependent on fission, instead of fusion.

    Private businesses can't do any of that - at least not without heavy government involvement, incentivization, and regulation.

    On top of tax cuts for the rich, the privatization of former government tasks, are what's killing this government.

    There are some things that government does better, some things that private companies do better. We need to figure out which is which, and stick with those decisions. Privatization is completely out of control now. Right now, two core American innovations are about to be privatized. Things that the Founding Fathers bled and died for - affordable public education, and an affodable national postage system.
    THIS IS CRIMINAL MALFEASANCE!!!
    People being educated, and able to communicate with one another via letters they write, and then cheaply transported to ANY one, ANY place, despite the prevailing weather condidions, are the hallmarks of American representative democracy.

    Right now, depending on private individuals and corporations, who have socked literally tens of trillions of dollars into overseas accounts - because PEOPLE DON'T MAKE ENOUGH FECKIN' MONEY TO BUY THEIR FECKIN' SH*T - is fruitless. It's like 'Waiting for Godot."
    They won't create jobs, if people don't have enough jobs to buy their crap - and won't until they do.

    AND ONLY THE FECKIN' GOVERNMENT CAN DO ANYTHING ABOUT THIS, YOU FECKIN' UN-AMERICAN MORONIC PRO-FASCIST CONSERVATIVE DIPSH*TS!!!!!!!!

  • Russell Sadler on September 02, 2012 4:24 PM:

    I think you are right here,Kathleen. I think the die was cast back when the Republicans determined that they would make Obama a one-term President. They deliberately blocked anything that would help end the recession because Obama would get credit for it.

    The prescription the Republicans are peddling this election -- austerity and the Romney/Ryan budget cuts -- are exactly the same mistake the Japanese made that resulted in their "lost decade." I fear our economy will follow a similar path. The question is whether the dispossessed will take Republican heads in returned. In any case, I fear our economy is doomed to the doldrums for a decade at least.

  • bluestatedon on September 02, 2012 5:27 PM:

    The mid-wage jobs are essential to what used to be the lower-middle class, and a large percentage of the mid-wage jobs that have disappeared over the last three recessions were either union manufacturing jobs or non-union jobs in related industries whose wages and benefits were directly tied to the strong labor union influence in the labor marketplace. As the manufacturing jobs have disappeared, so have the union members, which in turn means that union influence in American politics is dramatically less than it was 30 years ago. Amazingly enough, American wages have stagnated at the same time that union membership has declined. Who could have imagined that.

  • Ron Byers on September 02, 2012 6:45 PM:

    I hate to be a contrarian, but I think many, if not most, of the jobs that have gone missing have been eliminated by automation. It is now possible for a handful of workers to do the work of hundreds a few decades ago. Those missing workers are the precise workers who aren't getting their jobs back.

    I have said this before, but when I started practicing law each lawyer had a large support staff. Then came mag card machines, computers, the internet and electronic research. We didn't need nearly as many legal assistants. The same can be said about many other occupations and professions.

  • Ron Byers on September 02, 2012 6:48 PM:

    I hate to be a contrarian, but I think many, if not most, of the jobs that have gone missing have been eliminated by automation. It is now possible for a handful of workers to do the work of hundreds a few decades ago. Those missing workers are the precise workers who aren't getting their jobs back.

    I have said this before, but when I started practicing law each lawyer had a large support staff. Then came mag card machines, computers, the internet and electronic research. We didn't need nearly as many legal assistants. The same can be said about many other occupations and professions. For example the news business used to be far more labor intensive than it is today. Newspapers in particular have been hard hit by the internet. How to share the rewards of improved productivity is one of the major challenges of the new century.

  • Frank Wilhoit on September 02, 2012 7:59 PM:

    "They won't create jobs, if people don't have enough jobs to buy their crap - and won't until they do."

    They won't, period. Give the businessmen everything they want and they still won't hire. The objection to hiring is not economic, but emotional.

  • TulsaTime on September 02, 2012 10:21 PM:

    As long as there is nothing that matters more than profits and stock price, we can watch shared prosperity circle the drain and vanish from view. That shared concept is socialism incarnate anyhow, how did that infiltrate into this great god-inspired land?

    We built ourselves from the most ambitious cast-offs of the world, and now we reap the rewards of unrestricted unintended consequences. That helpful utilitarian finance function has morphed to the greed of the ages. Now more is not just better, it's required. More efficient, more profitable, more revenue, more control. More for me and less for you, and lets see of we can't get the government to help with that. We can make it very rewarding for the right assistance.

    It is not different this time, or any other time. We are seeing our destiny.

  • Bob M on September 03, 2012 8:47 AM:

    This report just shows the positives waiting around the corner. You have to put it in context -- the banks have 1.7 trillion waiting to go and the corporations have at least a trillion. This money has to be used somehow. When it is, jobs will follow.