about us


< Back | Next >

Low-Wage Jobs: Let's Have Some Justice

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast has been circulating online of late and lists “The 10 Occupations with the Largest Job Growth, 2004-14.”

It will surprise few people that primarily low-wage jobs are identified, ranging from retail salespersons and janitors to home health aides.

For a quick look at the difference a living wage could make for low-wage earners in your area, try the Living Wage Calculator, created by the Poverty in America project at Penn State.

So what’s up with Congress and its reticence in raising the federal minimum wage? A diarist at DailyKos.com describes “caging,” the method by which honest debates about income and family expenses are stifled.

He cites Beth Shulman and her book The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans and Their Families:

Caging is a way to defeat policy proposals on an entire set of related issues by designing public discourse in a way that makes sure that those issues never get raised …

[P]eople who insist that all people work jobs—any jobs—in order to support their families, must surely also argue that anyone who follows their advice and works full time … should be able to feed his or, more often, her family, right? ...

[W]hat happened to the discussions of minimum wage increases, about mandatory livable wages, about guaranteed health insurance? Where are they? You’ll find them, of course, in the cage, right where they know you won’t look.

In 2004, MotherJones interviewed Shulman about her research:

MJ.com: You write that low pay is only one of the problems low-wage workers face.

Beth Shulman: Low-wage workers don’t only make a low wage. Low wage jobs are the least likely to provide health insurance, sick leave, family leave, vacations, pensions. And they’re the most likely to be part time, give fewer hours and less flexibility. They’re often the most hazardous jobs. Low-wage workers get the least training and the least opportunity for advancement if there’s a ladder, which often there isn’t. There’s a whole group of characteristics that make these jobs so difficult. The largest costs for workers and their families are housing, medical expenses, and child-care. It makes life extraordinarily difficult for them.

MJ.com: Have things gotten worse for low-wage workers?

Beth Shulman: The data I looked at were from the best of times, and low-wage workers have been hit disproportionately hard in the downturn. The Bush administration has been disastrous for these workers, from the tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy, to cuts in essential programs like health insurance for children. We’re going in the opposite direction from the one we need to go.

Information professionals can learn more about economic justice (and thriving state-based campaigns) from advocacy groups like ACORN, the Center for Community Change, Change to Win, the Economic Policy Institute, United for a Fair Economy, the Universal Living Wage Campaign, and many others.

* * *

< Back | Next >