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Americans feeling more confident about finding better-paying jobs

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More people are optimistic about finding a quality job
More new jobs are coming in high-paying industries

A Gallup poll found that 35% of Americans think now is a good time to find a quality job -- one with a higher wage.

That may not seem like much, but the July reading is the highest since December 2007, the start of the Great Recession, and a little better than the decade average before the recession.

Twice since the recovery officially began in June 2009, the figure had dropped to just 8%, most recently in late 2011.

The upturn in confidence reflects what could be an important development in the labor market: an improvement in the quality of new jobs. 

Throughout the recovery the problem with the labor market wasn't just that hiring was sluggish; a lot of the new jobs were low-paying. Especially in the last few years, the biggest payroll gains have been at restaurants, retail stores and temporary-help firms.

But more recently, as employment growth has picked up, so too has the quality of new jobs. Sophia Koropeckyj, a labor analyst at Moody's Analytics, noted that 22% of the new jobs in the second quarter were in high-wage industries such as professional services, up from 15% during the previous four quarters.

In recent months, some of the strongest hiring has been in businesses that on average pay very good wages, including accounting, computer systems design and architectural and engineering services.

Koropeckyj also sees signs that even middle-wage jobs, which have long been depressed by technology, are starting to grow again, thanks partly to an increase in demand for construction and sales work.

"As a rising tide lifts all boats, mid-wage job growth has finally begun to accelerate and now matches gains in high-wage industries," she said.

Earlier, the disproportionately large hiring at low-paying businesses showed just how weak the job market was: Unemployment was high and companies were in no rush to add staff.

"When people can't get a job, they look for it in restaurants," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The jobless rate has fallen sharply over the last year, to 6.1% in June. And Baker observed that the quit rate -- or the share of the unemployed who voluntarily left their jobs -- was the highest last month in nearly six years.

"When you get a tighter labor market, people start to be choosier about their jobs," he said.

And as more workers jump ship for better-paying jobs, average wages also are likely to start rising at a faster rate. Throughout the recovery, the average hourly earnings of workers has barely kept pace with inflation. But if recent job-mix trends continue, the pay picture too should soon start to change.

"It seems things are on a better track," Baker said.

 Follow me on Twitter at @dleelatimes 

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