Crap Jobs ‘R Us: new report documents the disappearance of mid-wage jobs

The invaluable National Employment Law Project (NELP) has published a depressing new report which documents the disappearance of mid-wage jobs in our economy and the fact that job growth is concentrated in low-wage jobs. Specifically:

— Lower-wage occupations constituted 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth.

— Mid-wage occupations constituted 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22 percent of recovery growth.

The report defines mid-wage jobs as those paying median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13; they occur primarily in sectors like construction, manufacturing, and information. Low-wage jobs pay a median hourly wage of $7.69 to $13.83, and job growth in this wage tier has been concentrated in the fast-food and retail sectors.

The New York Times reports that this bifurcation is part of a long-standing trend, known as the “hollowing out” of the American economy. Government layoffs are probably accelerating the rate at which this is happening, but it’s been going on a long time:

This “polarization” of skills and wages has been documented meticulously by David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A recent study found that this polarization accelerated in the last three recessions, particularly the last one, as financial pressures forced companies to reorganize more quickly.

“This is not just a nice, smooth process,” said Henry E. Siu, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, who helped write the recent study about polarization and the business cycle. “A lot of these jobs were suddenly wiped out during recession and are not coming back.”

All of this is contributing to making an America an ever more profoundly unequal society. We’re not totally helpless in the face of these trends — as the folks at NELP point out, public sector cutbacks are making things a lot worse, and that’s something we do have direct control over. But I’m not betting on things improving there anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the ever-eager Republicans are, as always, helpfully paving the road to our dystopic hell: many of the workers they hired for their convention last week were paid below minimum wage. But hey — no worries! In an interview on Friday, Ann Romney made light of the $30 million offer to return to the private sector that her husband Mitt passed up in 2008:

Well, we’re used to kind of passing offers up like that. [. . .] I always trust that Mitt can always make another dollar. Poor guy, he took no pay when he did the Olympics for three years and no pay when he was governor for four years.

Hey, you gotta love that gal’s grit, optimism, and can-do spirit in the face of hard times. And let that be a lesson to all you unemployed losers out there — I’m sure there are $30 million offers waiting for each and every one of you, too! Just keep your chin up, and when you’re down, think about that “poor guy” Mitt Romney, who wasn’t paid when ran the Olympics or served as governor of Massachusetts. The humanity! But he got through it — so can you!

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee