A few weeks ago, our Fact of the Week highlighted the historically low percentage of jobless workers who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits. We noted that unemployment and underemployment remain high, despite the growth in the number of jobs in recent years. But there’s another part of this story – the types of jobs our nation is creating, and the ability of those jobs to lift people out of poverty and create shared prosperity.
According to a recent report, Low Wage Nation, nearly two out of five existing jobs pay less than $15 an hour, and nearly half of job openings pay less than $15 an hour. The Alliance for a Just Society, the authors of the report, used a conservative $15 an hour wage to represent a living wage, defined by them as the salary “a full-time worker needs to earn to make basic ends meet, with a little left over to plan for emergencies and get ahead.” However, they note that in many states and cities, $15 isn’t enough to make ends meet, even for a single person without child care costs.
Finding a job that pays a living wage will continue to be a challenge, especially since the report found that there are 7 times more job-seekers than there are projected jobs paying $15 or higher. And among the top 10 occupations with the most projected new job openings, including retail and food services, just one has a median wage greater than $15 an hour.
The report also includes additional findings for 10 states and 1 city (Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New York State, New York City, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington) like the one below.
The Alliance for a Just Society also recommends steps we could take as a nation to help workers make ends meet – all of which we support, too. Things like raising the minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage, which has been stuck at just over $2 for nearly a quarter of a century. Establishing work supports like paid sick days and paid leave so necessary time off doesn’t decrease a worker’s wages (as we know from last week’s Fact of the Week, half of low wage workers don’t have a single paid day off). Strengthening federal and state safety net programs like TANF, SNAP/food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. And making sure big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to make sure we have the revenue to make these important safety net investments.
Overall, the unemployment rate is dropping, and that’s good news for sure. But until everyone working full-time is making a living wage and can make ends meet, we need to continue to pursue policies and programs that will help them from falling into, or deeper into, poverty. Clearly, we still have our work cut out for us.
What other recommendations do you have to help low-wage workers make ends meet? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.