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Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

New York Times (04/28/14) Annie Lowrey

The ongoing sluggish economic recovery has seen the strongest employment growth in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants, despite the fact the recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. A new report from the National Employment Law Project, a labor research and advocacy group, concludes the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. The report shows that total employment has finally surpassed its pre-recession level, but job losses and gains have been skewed. Higher-wage industries—like accounting and legal work—shed 3.6 million positions during the recession and have added only 2.6 million positions during the recovery. But lower-wage industries lost two million jobs, then added 3.8 million.

With joblessness high and job gains concentrated in low-wage industries, hundreds of thousands of Americans have accepted positions that pay less than they used to make, in some cases, sliding out of the middle class and into the ranks of the working poor. The National Employment Law Project study found that there were about a million fewer jobs in middle-wage industries—including parts of the health care system, loan servicing, and real estate—than there were when the recession hit. Economists worry that even a stronger recovery might not bring back jobs in traditionally middle-class occupations eroded by mechanization and offshoring.