Over 40 Million Jobs - 1 in 3 - Pay Low Wages

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March 15, 2007

For Immediate Release: March 15, 2007
Contact: Lynn Erskine, 202-293-5380 x115

Washington, DC: A new report from The Mobility Agenda finds that over 40 million jobs in the United States — about 1 in 3  — pay low wages ($11.11 per hour or less) and often do not offer employment benefits like health insurance, retirement savings accounts, paid sick days, or family leave. Moreover, these jobs tend to have inflexible or unpredictable scheduling requirements and provide little opportunity for career advancement.

The Mobility Agenda is a special initiative of Inclusion, a think tank affiliated with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"All too often these low-wage jobs are replacing jobs that have supported a broad middle class," said Margy Waller, director of The Mobility Agenda and one of the paper's co-authors. "The economy and our democratic society are strongest when no one is falling too far behind the rest. Unfortunately, we find that, in 2006, 44 million workers were employed in low-wage jobs paying much less than the rest of us get paid."

The report, Understanding Low-Wage Work in the United States, uses a social inclusion approach that provides a definition of low-wage work that allows for comparison among jobs in the United States. The authors define a low-wage job as one paying substantially less than the job held by a typical male worker. The trend since 2001 has been a sharp decline in wages for these jobs. Worse, reviewing the evidence on economic mobility, the authors conclude, "In the U.S. labor market, it is not possible for everyone to be middle class, no matter how hard they work. Moreover, it has been getting harder to do over time."

This report is the first in a series for The Mobility Agenda, where advisors are developing a menu of new ideas and strategies for improving low-wage work and economic mobility — a set of options that goes beyond minimum wage to strengthen the labor market and build an economy that works for everyone. 

"We're focused on improving wages, benefits, and other work conditions. We encourage further public debate about the significance of low-wage work and a more direct focus on the labor market and economic policy for a strong nation," said Shawn Fremstad, another co-author and advisor to The Mobility Agenda. 

Inclusion was co-founded by report co-authors: Shawn Fremstad, Margy Waller and Rachel Gragg. The fourth co-author, Heather Boushey, is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. For more information about this initiative, see The Mobility Agenda.