The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
January 10, 2014

How do we grow our economy when most of the jobs are low wage and low skill?

January 10, 2014

Today’s job report was disappointing - just 74,000 estimated new jobs in December. What's more, overall job growth is mainly concentrated  in low-wage, low-skill occupations. And the difference between the upper and lower classes is expanding as fewer high-growth occupations provide middle-class wages.

Bureau of Labor Statistics projections released this week suggest that job growth will remain concentrated in lower-wage occupations. Of the top five jobs projected to grow from 2012 to 2022, only one—registered nurse—provides an annual, full-time salary over $22,000. To put this into context, the federal poverty level for a family of three in 2012 was $19,090. Of the 20 top jobs projected to grow over the next decade, only three have a median salary over $40,000 a year that would offer a middle-class wage.

These job growth projections point to some key considerations for policymakers. We need to address how to make low-skill, low-wage jobs better. Policy options include improving job quality by encouraging employers to offer better hours and benefits or by increasing the minimum wage. We also need to develop practices and policies to best guide and support low-skill individuals seeking postsecondary education and training, helping them select a program that will lead to a “middle-skill” job. Middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree and typically offer wages that move people into the middle class.

Finally, our secondary and postsecondary education systems need to better address our country’s low basic skills so that adults can train for “good” jobs and our country can better compete on the global stage.


Photo by Brandon Wade/AP


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