More than three and a half years since the Great Recession began and twenty-five months after it ended—according to the arbiters of such matters—the United States is still afflicted by all the chronic problems it faced before the acute crisis struck, including wage stagnation and offshoring of jobs as well as still-growing inequalities of income and wealth. On the one hand, government intervention saved the domestic car industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs that would have been otherwise lost. On the other hand, new workers in that industry are being hired at far lower rates and receive far lower benefits than their predecessors.
In February, the National Employment Law Project found a striking imbalance between where the recession’s job losses occurred, and where the growth in the so-called recovery was concentrated. High-income jobs constituted 40 percent of what was lost during the recession but only 14 percent of what had been regained since the recession officially ended. Forty-nine percent of job growth between July 2009 and July 2010 had occurred in low-wage jobs. But such jobs made up only 23 percent of the layoffs between December 2007 and June 2009.
Now NELP has published an updated survey. Once again, it's not good news. The majority of growth continues to be in lower-wage occupations.
Bernhardt analyzed employment trends for 366 occupations based on data from the Current Population Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data cover the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011, which ended March 31. Median wages were ranked into three groups: lower-wage ($7.51 to $13.52 per hour), mid-wage ($13.53 to $20.66 per hour) and higher-wage ($20.67 to $53.32 per hour).
What did she discover?
Lower-wage occupations grew by 3.2 percent, with retail salespersons, office clerks, cashiers, food preparation workers and stock clerks topping the list. Mid-wage occupations, including paralegals, customer service representatives and machinists, grew by only 1.2 percent, while higher-wage occupations declined by 1.2 percent, which includes occupations like engineers, registered nurses and finance workers. […]You can see specifics for some of occupations in the report.
As [the chart above shows], these meager growth figures are dwarfed by the job losses during the recession, which were concentrated in mid-wage occupations. Of the net employment losses between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2010, fully 60.0 percent were in mid-wage occupations, 21.3 percent were in lower-wage occupations, and 18.7 percent were in higher-wage occupations. […]
The United States needs 11 million jobs to get back to pre-recession levels, and that jobs deficit is unevenly distributed: it is largest among mid-wage occupations (8.4 percent below pre-recession employment), compared to higher-wage occupations (4.1 percent below pre-recession employment) and lower-wage occupations (0.3 percent below pre-recession employment). […]
Even as lower-wage jobs have generated the most growth, the wages they pay have fallen disproportionately – seeing a 2.3-percent decline since the start of the recession. Workers in mid-wage occupations saw more modest declines (-0.9 percent), while workers in higher-wage occupations actually saw slight gains in real wages (+0.9 percent). Overall, wages have fallen 0.6 percent since the start of the recession.
Answers to the questions raised by the NELP report are crucial. Will these troubling trends vanish over time? Or is this part of that awful but oft-voiced description of our future—the "new normal"? Are the majority of Americans forever stuck with McJobs? Will younger people seeing such a dead-end future for themselves begin to feel more of a sense of solidarity with the working poor? And, if so, will they act accordingly to put the screws to politicians who are promoting austerity and tax cuts for the rich? How exactly would they turn those screws?