Low-wage jobs show fastest growth, report says

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The job growth the nation has experienced this year has been concentrated in low- and mid-wage industries, indicating that robust consumer spending may still be a long way off, even if employers start adding jobs.

That’s according to a report out Wednesday from the National Employment Law Project, which used two data sets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to look into the wages of growth industries.


“Job creation in 2010 has clearly not been distributed evenly across the economy,” the report says.

About 35% of the jobs lost in 2008 and 2009 were in industries that pay between $8.92 and $15 an hour, the bottom two-fifths of the wage scale, the report says. But those jobs accounted for 76% of net growth in 2010.

The low-wage industries include retail, food services and drinking places, nursing and residential care facilities, and administrative and waste services. Some growth also occurred in mid-wage industries such as manufacturing, wholesale trade, and hospitals and ambulatory healthcare services.

Industries that pay between $17.43 and $31.02 an hour, the top two-fifths of the wage scale, contributed only 5% of net job growth in 2010, after accounting for 48% of losses in 2008 and 2009.

The top five occupations in industries with net growth between 2008 and 2009 were retail salespersons; cashiers; combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, waiters and waitresses; and registered nurses. Those industries have median hourly wages of $9.92, $8.73, $8.43, $8.69 and $31.41, respectively.

Some parts of the report are not surprising – employers often hire temporary workers, one of the growth industries shown in the report, in the early parts of recoveries. And some service sectors, such as grocery stores, are somewhat insulated from recessions because consumers need them, regardless.

But if occupations in higher-wage industries don’t start to grow, the National Employment Law Project worries that job seekers will find that the only jobs available to them pay poorly.

This “challenges workers’ ability to support their families, but also the broader economic goal of restoring robust consumer demand.”

-- Alana Semuels