Once you know something about America's economy, the jobs data released monthly by the government always feels depressing, even when the news is supposedly good, like it was this morning.
That's because so many of the new jobs that get created in the U.S. today are lousy and don't offer a real path into the middle class.
So, for example, retail and restaurant jobs again grew rapidly last month, with some 40,000 new positions created in these sectors. But as we all know -- and as Demos has documented -- many of these jobs pay barely over poverty wages and don't come with benefits. Transportation and warehousing were other bright spots in job growth, with 30,000 new jobs in those areas last month. So it's a shame that warehouse work is so poorly paid these days, with Amazon and other big shippers creating a new kind of sweatshop.
Healthcare and education jobs grew rapidly, too, and some of these jobs can be rewarding. But, again, many rarely pay all that much, with home health aides among the most poorly paid workers in America. Some of these workers aren't covered by regular labor standards governing overtime and the like. Even "professional service jobs," one of the biggest areas of growth last month, are not so great, with half of the 35,000 new jobs in this area comprised of temp jobs.
If you want to get a clear look at the jobs America's economy produces, one of the best places to go is the Social Security Administration, which tracks earnings by all workers. Their most recent data shows that 53 percent of Americans workers earn less than $30,000 a year. Forty percent of American workers earn less than $20,000 a year.
Let me stop and repeat that statistic: 40 percent of all U.S. workers earn less than $20k a year.
This is the problem with the U.S. economy in a nutshell. Most people just aren't making enough money -- either to survive without public subsidies or to have extra spending to stimulate demand.
One solution to this situation is to create an economy and education system that generates more good jobs for a work force with better skills. Another solution is to raise wages for low-skilled jobs, which is what the recent wave of labor strikes has been all about.
The U.S. has to pursue both solutions, and others, if we want to create a decent society.