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A Good Job Is Hard to Find

Amy Traub

Encouraging though it may be, last Friday’s strong jobs report doesn’t change the big picture: the economic recovery, officially underway since June 2009, is still leaving millions of working Americans behind. Today, a new report from the Alliance for a Just Society highlights the failure of our economic policies to produce the full-time living wage jobs working people need to sustain their families.

Report author Allyson Fredericksen finds that in 2014, 17.7 million job seekers (including both the unemployed and workers seeking a different job) pursued just 5 million job openings, leaving almost 13 million job seekers excluded from employment. But for many, even landing a job was not enough to make ends meet: of those 5 million job openings, nearly half paid less than $15 per hour, leaving only 2.7 million that paid $15 or more per hour. And for workers able to secure only part-time employment, wages were even more inadequate: in 2014, more than one in five part-time workers wanted full-time employment but were unable to find it.

The core finding: there are not enough living wage jobs to go around. And women and people of color are especially impacted by low wages and part-time work.

At Demos, we’ve looked closely at two large, low-paying industries – retail and fast food—and we’ve found that continued economic recovery and growth will not be sufficient to produce well-paying employment. The new AJS report reaches the same conclusion, finding that the fastest growing occupations tend to pay low wages and offer part-time, often erratic and unpredictable schedules.

To change this trajectory, and promote good jobs that enable people working hard to sustain their families and communities, we need to change public policy. Legislation to increase the minimum wagesupport labor organizing and collective bargaining, and better regulate scheduling practices are among the measures that would permit workers scrambling to make ends meet with “a patchwork of paychecks” to attain economic security.