Low-wage work force grows 30% as the number of jobs shrinks

The report is “compelling evidence that as the number of jobs shrinks, people are forced to chase lower and lower paying jobs,” Doussard said. “I think this is a wake up call, and I think we need to acknowledge that low-wage jobs used to be the exception to the rule of an economy that produced a lot of mid- and higher-wage job opportunities. Increasingly low-wage jobs are the rule. This is not something that happens on the margin of the economy.”

Amie Crawford, 56 years old, holds an associate degree in interior design, and has previously worked in that capacity making $50,000 a year. Now she cannot find a job in that field and makes $8.25 an hour at a quick service restaurant.

Low-wage workers in Chicago are better educated, older and rely more on that income these days to meet basic needs than 10 years ago.

And there are substantially more of them.

That’s according to a new report released by Chicago-based Women Employed and Action Now Institute that shows nearly one in six low-wage workers here last year held a college degree.

The report, authored by Marc Doussard, assistant professor in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, defines low-wage workers as those making $12 an hour or less.

The report revealed the share of payroll employees ages 18 to 64 working in low-wage jobs rose from 23.8 percent in 2001 to 31.2 percent last year. That’s a more than a 30 percent rise in the proportion of such workers.

Meanwhile the share of households with a low-wage earner that got all income from low-wage earnings rose from 45.7 percent to 56.7 percent. That’s evidence more people are relying more on those dollars to meet basic needs rather than for disposable income.


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