A growing share of the country’s jobs pay less than $15 an hour, replacing higher wage jobs, according to a new report from the Alliance for a Just Society.
The number of jobs in occupations that pay a median wage below $15 an hour grew by 3.6 million between 2009 and 2012, increasing by about 3 percent. During the same time period, the number of jobs that pay above that level fell by 4 million. There were more than 51 million jobs paying less than $15 an hour last year. Someone making $15 an hour working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year will make $31,200, while experts say a two-income family with two kids needs $72,000 a year to be economically secure.
The report also notes that there is a huge number of people vying for the jobs that pay better. It calculates that there were seven job seekers for every projected job opening that paid above $15 an hour in 2012 and 17.9 million more job hunters than higher wage jobs.
The report is the latest to find that low-wage work has grown in the post-recovery economy at the expense of better paid jobs. Since the end of the recession, most of the jobs added have paid less than $13.83 an hour, while middle class jobs have dropped off. One in four American workers is expected to be in low-wage work over the next decade.
To help raise the living standard of the growing number of workers who find themselves in the lowest paid work, cities and states have been raising their minimum wages. On Election Day this year, voters in New Jersey increased their wage to $8.25 an hour with automatic increases tied to inflation and voters in a small town in Washington state increased their wage to $15 an hour. Voters also approved raises in Albuquerque, NM; San Jose, CA; and Long Beach, CA in the 2012 election. Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C. council unanimously voted to raise the city’s wage to $11.50 an hour at the beginning of the month and the Massachusetts state Senate passed an increase to $11 an hour with automatic raises. A handful of other states are also working on potential raises. The action comes while federal lawmakers have let the national wage remain at $7.25 an hour for four years, although President Obama and Democratic Congressmen have backed a hike to $10 an hour. If the wage had kept up with inflation, it would be over $10 an hour, and if it had kept up with increasing worker productivity, it would be over $20 an hour.
Workers have also demanded a higher wage. Fast food workers staged the largest strike in the history of the industry this month in 100 cities, a movement that has spread rapidly across the country. They’ve been demanding a raise to $15 an hour and the right to form a union. Walmart workers have also been walking off the job, with nine strikes in November and mass protests on Black Friday, to call for better pay and an end to retaliation.