Low-Paid Jobs Now Pay Even Worse Than Before The Recovery Began

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Those who work in jobs that pay poorly are now making even less than they were when the recovery began, according to a new analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

As the report notes, since the recovery started in 2009, “Lower- and mid-wage occupations experienced greater declines in their real wages than did higher-wage occupations.” Jobs that pay in the top two tiers saw a decline in wages between 2.1 and 2.5 percent. But those in the bottom three groups in terms of pay saw wages decline between 3.6 and 4.6 percent.

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Some of the low-wage jobs that employ the most people have suffered even more. The food service industry has seen big drops: an 8.3 percent decline for restaurant cooks, 6.3 percent for food preparation workers, and 3.5 percent for servers. Maids and housekeepers have seen wages decline by 5.8 percent, as have home health aides, while personal care aides have seen a 6.3 percent decline. And retail workers have had wages go down by 4.2 percent.

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Overall, across all jobs, median hourly wages have declined 3.4 percent between 2009 and 2013.

This trend is also troubling because these jobs have seen some of the strongest growth in the recovery, outpacing better paying ones. The NELP report notes that low-wage industries have accounted for 41 percent of job growth over the past year, employing 2.3 million more workers than when the recession began, while mid-wage industries have only made up 26 percent and high-wage ones have made up 33 percent. “Today, there are approximately 1.2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were before the Great Recession took hold,” it says. This continues a trend NELP has been tracking over recent years.

Other groups have found similar trends going on in today’s economy: the U.S. Conference of Mayors released a report that found the jobs that were added during the recovery pay an average of 23 percent less than the ones that were lost to the recession. That’s been driven by the loss of jobs in blue collar industries like manufacturing and construction and the boom of service industries like food services, administrative support, and retail. Research from last year found that half of the jobs added during the recovery were low paying.

These trends may help explain why new data from Sentier Research finds that median household income, or for families in the middle of the income distribution, is lower now than when the recovery began: $53,981 today versus $55,589 in June 2009. The trends extend before and after the current aftermath of the recession, however. Sentier finds that middle-income households are making less than they were in 2000. And one in four American workers is expected to be in a low-paying job over the next decade.