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Study Finds 44 Percent of Americans Are 'Low-Wage Workers'

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Nov 7, 2019

A recent study has found that, despite the total number of jobs increasing apace, many of them don't pay well, as 44 percent of Americans 18-64 are low-wage workers, according to Bloomberg. The Brookings Institution report said that these workers, estimated at 53 million Americans, have a median wage of $10.22 an hour, with a median annual salary of $17,950. Accounting for different costs of living in various parts of the country, the study defined a low-wage worker as one who earns less than two-thirds the median wage for full-time workers adjusted by region. What's more, the study said that even if these low-wage workers move to a different job, there is a 52 percent chance that it will be to another, similarly low-wage job. Meanwhile, among middle-wage workers ($19-$24 an hour for the purposes of this study), there's a 46 percent chance a job change will land them in a lower-paid position. 

Almost half of these low-wage jobs are concentrated in just 10 different occupations: retail salespersons, information and records clerks, cooks and food preparation workers, building cleaners and janitors, material movers, food and beverage servers, construction trade workers, material dispatchers and distributors, motor vehicle operators, and personal care and service providers. 

This study tracks neatly with other research that has found that much of the job growth since the 2008 economic crisis has been in lower-paying jobs.  Employment projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showing the 31 occupations with the most expected growth over the next few years, indicate that 12 of the fastest growing jobs have median wages between $20,000 to $29,000. Meanwhile, seven have wages between $30,000 to $39,000, two have wages between $40,000 and $49,000, and 10 have wages $50,000 or more. 

A 2014 report from the National Employment Law Project found similar patterns: Lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession but 44 percent of employment growth between 2010 and 2014. At the time the report was written, lower-wage industries employed 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession. By contrast, 958,000 fewer were employed in mid-wage industries, and 976,000 fewer were employed in high-wage industries.