Low-Wage Job Growth a Major Factor in Income Inequality. Patience is Not the Answer.

In response to the New York Times’ Jan. 27 Upshot piece, “Gains From Economic Recovery Still Limited to Top One Percent,” we appreciate the effort to report on the historic, staggering and blatant income inequality that has taken hold of America. This piece made some excellent points around the continuing inequality crisis. However, we have an answer to the question about the recent employment growth that has occurred in middle-class occupations:

“The puzzle is why robust employment growth over recent years — much of it concentrated in middle-class occupations — has not translated into larger income gains for the broader population. Perhaps we need to be patient, and the recent pickup in employment is yielding more broadly shared growth that will become evident when the data for 2014 are released.”

Yes, the unemployment rate is down from its Great Recession peaks. But it is still significantly higher than pre-recession levels. And, importantly, that job growth we hear so much about is primarily coming in low-wage occupations.

In our new report, “Low Wage Nation,” the Alliance for a Just Society finds that employment gains since the recession have largely come in occupations, like retail salespeople and cashiers, freight laborers, and restaurant workers, that don’t pay enough to make ends meet. Using $15 an hour to represent a living wage, we see that nine of the top 10 occupations with the most projected job openings, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pay a median wage less than that low-wage threshold.

The number of job-seekers nationally — 19.6 million in 2013 — has declined from its 2010 peak of 23.9 million, but is still nearly double the 10.8 million in 2007, the start of the recession. Turns out, there are a lot of folks — this includes the unemployed, underemployed and discouraged workers — still out of luck when it comes to employment.

And their outlook for finding a living wage job is bleak. We also find that nearly half — 2.4 million out of 5 million — of projected job openings pay less than $15.

As for the underemployed: Don’t like your wage? Well, it’s not as easy as simply finding another gig. The data shows us that there are seven job-seekers for every projected new job that pays $15 or better.

Don’t let falling unemployment rates deceive you — we live in a system that is failing the 99 percent, and being “patient” only allows the rampant inequality to worsen.

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For more on our findings, visit http://thejobgap.org, and download the full report here: http://bit.ly/LowWageNation.

Testimony: A Living Wage Is about Family Prosperity

Yesterday I got the chance to testify to the Washington state House Labor and Workforce Development Committee.

Our living wage research findings set a standard, that mere survival is not an adequate measure of a healthy society, and not an expectation we should be striving to set. It’s about a living wage that positions families to build for the future and realize their dreams. Read more

Who Earns a Living Wage, and Who Doesn’t?

A living wage: the ability to make ends meet, to provide for necessities as well as to have some left over for savings and miscellaneous expenses. It sounds simple, but for a large number of workers across the country, it is far out of reach. For a staggering percentage of women and people of color, it is only an impossible dream

Today, the Alliance for a Just Society releases “Equity Out of Balance,” the latest installment in the Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series. The study shows that while nationally, and in 10 states and New York City, a significant percentage of all full-time workers fall short of earning enough to make ends meet, working women, workers of color, and non-citizen workers are especially less likely to earn enough for a single adult to support herself, let alone support a family.

This staggering disparity did not come about by chance; rather, a history of discriminatory policies laid the groundwork for the disparities that still exist today. When women were denied the right to vote or to keep their own earnings if they were married; Black slaves were sold as property and freed slaves kept in a system of slave-like conditions; Native Americans forced from their homeland to barren territory; and immigrants who were not free and white were prevented from becoming citizens, a system of economic racism and gender discrimination became entrenched in the nation’s culture.

Today, the results of such policies are shown in the over-representation of women and people of color in low-wage work. Women make up 60 percent of all workers in tipped occupations, and are 70 percent of all servers in the restaurant industry. In fact, across all industries, women make up 57 percent of all workers than earn at or below the minimum wage. Similarly, restaurants are the single largest employer of people of color, and the second largest employer of immigrants.

Increasing the minimum wage and abolishing the tipped minimum wage will disproportionately help women and people of color, but more targeted solutions can help advance pay equity. Equal opportunity statues and affirmative action should address these disparities and ensure that discrimination does not keep women and people of color at the bottom of the pay scale, but such statutes must be strengthened to ensure that they are actually effective. Additionally, unionizing sectors not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (like home care workers) and fast food and retail workers will help millions of workers across the country gain access to better pay, benefits, and worker protections, and will especially help the women and people of color working those jobs.

For over two hundred years, women and people of color have been subject to policies that keep them stuck at the bottom; it’s past time for that to change.

Fair Wages Aren’t Enough, Workers Need Hours, Predictability, too

Fast-Food-EmployeesThere’s no question that working families across the country are struggling to get by; wages for most income levels have been stagnant or declining over the past decade, while the cost of living has continued to increase.

One key to helping working families is increasing wages so that there are more living wage jobs available. However, increasing the minimum wage is only part of the solution for helping families whose low-wage jobs do not always include steady work.

Living wage calculations, like those produced by the Alliance for a Just Society, must make assumptions to remain consistent year after year. One of those assumptions is that workers have jobs where they can actually work 40 hours per week, year-round (for 2,080 hours per year). For many workers, this assumption doesn’t match their reality.

For retail and restaurant workers, a steady schedule with enough hours can be hard to come by. Retail salespersons and food preparation and service workers are two of the top five occupations with the greatest projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, but are also low-wage occupations, with 2013 median annual wage of $21,140 and $18,330, respectively. These jobs are also often shift work, without set schedules. Read more

Everyone Benefits When Workers Earn Living Wages

The South Korea government is taking an interesting approach to stagnating wages. The South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance is pushing a policy to offer tax credits to those firms that increase worker pay.

This legislation — which, if approved by the South Korean parliament, would go into effect in January — creates a policy incentive for firms to increase wages. As in America, wage growth in South Korea is “not keeping pace with corporate profits in South Korea, where household debt is rising while companies hoard cash,” according to this Bloomberg story.

Sound familiar?

Read more

LeeAnn Hall: Three Reasons Why Harris v. Quinn Matters to All of Us

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 5.50.01 PMThe Harris v. Quinn ruling on Monday was a huge step backward in the national effort to develop rights and protections for home care workers. It’s also a clear call to action for all of us not to become complacent or take for granted the rights and protections that were hard fought and hard earned by the labor movement.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that home care workers who do not wish to support the union that bargains on their behalf, can no longer be required to pay their “fair share” of the costs of collective bargaining with the state — even though they benefit from that bargaining process.

The attack on these public sector workers dramatically undermines decades of state-level progress in professionalizing the home care industry and ensuring that the people taking care of our nation’s grandparents and disabled people are paid decent wages, work in humane conditions, and can afford to take care of their own families.

This ruling is troubling for the home care workers it will affect — most of whom are women and people of color. Many make less than minimum wage. It is also troubling for all of us who understand that workers are more able to provide quality care when they are treated with dignity, paid fair wages, and have a voice on the job. Read more

Tools to Rescue Underwater Homeowners When Outreach Isn’t Enough

Photo by: Alan Pollock, Workers World

Photo by: Alan Pollock, Workers World

As previously discussed in Alliance reports, the housing crisis is over for some, but there are still millions of homeowners across the country struggling to pay off mortgages that are valued at more than the current worth of their homes. When combined with a sluggish labor market forcing many families to make due on less than before the recession, paying more than something is worth is not only dissatisfying, but often impossible.

In communities of color that still have high numbers of underwater mortgages, the effect on individuals overflows into the community, preventing entire neighborhoods from fully recovering from the recession.

During the height of the recession, there was sometimes a temptation to put the blame on borrowers who took out loans that they could not afford or with fine print they ignored, despite the fact that many homeowners were steered into these loans by banks looking to make a quick sale. Struggling homeowners were viewed as not smart with their finances and not reading or understanding the fine print, suggesting that it was the borrowers who needed to change.

As the crisis moved beyond subprime mortgages and property values dropped across the country, more and more “smart” people fell into foreclosure. Finally, the blame shifted appropriately to the banks, but solutions continued to focus on homeowners. Read more

Reversing the Trend: A Longitudinal Study of Living Wage and Minimum Wage

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 11.03.10 AMA new report, “Reversing the Trend” by the Alliance for a Just Society, finds that Mayor Ed Murray’s minimum wage proposal reverses a minimum wage trend that is increasingly unable to meet the basic living needs of workers. Seattle’s proposed $15 minimum wage would be the highest in the country.

Analyzing more than a decade of data, this chart shows that while the path to a $15 an hour minimum wage is a step in the right direction toward addressing income inequality – living wage still exceeds projected minimum wage levels offered in the mayor’s model.

In addition, the study shows that a $15 minimum wage would not have been enough to support a single parent and child even back in 2003, and it would not have been enough to make ends meet for a single person as far back as 2010. Read more