Job and wage loss major issues on Labor Day

WASHINGTON – A new, comprehensive report on U.S. occupations – sorting 366 defined jobs data into high-income, middle-income and low-income posts – reveals data to back what workers know by instinct: The jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession were middle-class, and the fewer jobs created now pay a lot less.

The study, by the National Employment Law Project, based on comprehensive federal occupational and wage data, found that from the start of the Great Recession – also known as the Bush Crash – in the first quarter of 2008, through its statistical end two years later, 60 percent of the jobs lost were middle-income. In current dollars, those jobs paid between $13.53 and $20.66 per hour. Based on 40-hour workweeks, that’s between $28,142 and $42,973 per year. And 4 million of those jobs went up in smoke.

But since the supposed recovery began, it’s been a different story. Lower-wage occupations have added more than a million jobs, middle-wage occupations added barely half a million, and high-wage jobs actually declined by several hundred thousand. Combined, that anemic growth has left the nation’s jobless rate still around 9 percent, down by just over 1 percent from its Bush Crash high.

Not only are the job gains in the last year, starting in the second quarter of 2010, a lot smaller than the losses in the two years of the Bush Crash before then, but even within the low-wage occupations, the biggest gainers have been some of the lowest payers.

The occupation that gained the most jobs since the recession officially “ended” was retail sales. It added 281,923 jobs in the last year, almost 100,000 more jobs than the runner-up, office clerks (184,168). Neither pays decently: Retail salespersons’ median hourly wage was $10.72, and clerks’ $13.23. That translates into yearly income of $22,300 and $27,518, respectively, again based on 40-hour weeks.

Meanwhile, the high-wage jobs kept disappearing, with the two biggest losses coming among managers (189,505 jobs) and computer scientists (183,315). Those occupations each paid more than $28.30 an hour, or $58,864 a year.

NELP says it’s too early to tell whether continued job growth, if there is any, will continue in the low-wage jobs, but its analysts are worried that will occur:

“Averaged over the whole period, from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2011, real wages actually show a mild decline. And this decline was not evenly distributed, with workers in lower-“wage occupations seeing the largest drop in real wages.”

That’s “a pattern that is of great concern, because it is precisely lower-wage occupations that have seen the bulk of recovery employment growth,” NELP said. “And it is important to remind readers that the U.S. still faces a deficit of 11 million jobs,” the report said.

Photo: Ben Sears



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.