Friday, October 5, 2012

More (Minimum Wage) Jobs

So the news today is all about how job creation has picked up. In fact I saw two job postings today, one at my local cafe and one outside Toys R'Us. Happy days are here again, right? Jeff Madrick points out the inconvenient truth: all we're creating is bad jobs.
The reason that the economic recovery is coinciding with middle class decline is increasingly clear. America is creating jobs, but they are bad jobs: retailing, food preparation, and table waiting, for example—in other words, jobs that don’t pay much. Economists like David Autor of MIT and Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute have been talking for years about the hollowing out of middle-level jobs in offices and manufacturing.

Annette Bernhardt of the National Employment Law Project did the hard empirical work recently and found that most of the job losses from 2008 to early 2010 were in the middle-income category, jobs that pay from roughly $14 to $21 an hour. What is disturbing is that in the job turnaround since then, only one in five such jobs came back. Instead, very low-end jobs, paying $7.70 to $13.80 an hour, accounted for most new employment. This is a stark continuation of the hollowing out.

The mystery, then, is not what is going on in the economy but what to do about it. And neither candidate has a satisfactory plan. Romney is offering a repeat of the George W. Bush approach, which involves mostly large tax cuts for upper income “job creators.” Even before the devastation of 2008, job growth was slower under Bush than under any other postwar president.
Our Crisis Of Bad Jobs (New York Review Of Books)

But a job's a job right? As a comment to this article put it, "The job, along with what is our much of our present politics are creations of the industrial era; to look at the jobs that have been “created” in America in the last four decades and then to make part of you political platform the “need for more jobs” – both Dems and Reps cry! – is dumbfounding. We need a lot better thinking, but it shows how comfortable we become with our shackles, especially if they come with a little padding...People didn't have jobs prior to industrialism, they were farmers, shopkeepers, hunters. The “job” which your piece is about, not work, is an industrial creation."

UPDATE - Via The Guardian:
Buried in the Friday's jobs report is evidence that a disturbing trend continues: the creation of more part-time jobs, many of them low-wage, taking the place of solid middle-class careers. Positions in sectors like manufacturing continued to decline last month, replaced by new jobs in the healthcare, warehousing and retail industries. A lot of these jobs don't allow workers to rack up enough hours to earn healthcare benefits – let alone break out of poverty.

 The key data in the new report can be found in a table called "A-8". It shows that more workers are in stuck in part-time jobs because their hours were cut back or they're unable to find full-time positions. The number of workers in this category shot up to 8.5 million in September – an increase of 581,000 from last month. This month's figure is nearly double what it was in September 2007, the eve of the recession.

It's distressing to think that after 20th-century labor struggles won the battle for the 40-hour work week, the 21st-century struggle is a fight for enough working hours to make a living wage. That's not what I'd call progress.


  1. Our collective troubles definitely exceed the lack of worthy occupations. Our main problem is that we need to continue treating all living people as precious while simultaneously establishing that reproduction is no longer anyone's inalienable right. I can't help concluding that most people feel that it is already too late and that such a change in thinking is impossible. And so, little universal effort has been put forth over these past few centuries to restrain population to, not just a sustainable level, but one that reflects how precious and truly limitlessly rich a human life should be.

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