How’s the job market looking these days?
It’s been better and it’s been worse. Unemployment is holding at about 7.8 percent. Employment growth is stuck at a slower pace than in any recovery in the past half-century. And although job growth looks like it may be on the upswing, studies find that we don’t just have a jobs deficit—we have a “good jobs” deficit. During the downturn, the disappearance of midwage, midskill jobs was just part of a longer-term trend that some refer to as a “hollowing out” of the work force, accelerated by government layoffs.
Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of about $8-$14, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the downturn. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.
Those aren’t encouraging statistics for people who are looking for work.
Unfortunately, it’s just one measurement that points to lower wages. Another indicator is decreasing membership in labor unions. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported sharp declines in the nation’s labor union membership.
The union membership rate fell from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent of all workers, the lowest level since the 1930s. Total membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million. More than half the loss — about 234,000 — came from government workers including teachers, firefighters and public administrators. Unions have steadily lost members since their peak in the 1950s, when about one of every three workers was in a union. By 1983, roughly 20 percent of American workers were union members.
This contraction indicates that even Americans with jobs are working for lower pay and without a voice. Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members in 2012 had median weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members earned $742.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, almost 30% of American workers are expected to hold low-wage jobs – defined as earnings at or below the poverty line to support a family of four – in 2020. This number will remain virtually unchanged from 2010.