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The Uneven Growth of High and Low-Wage Jobs Across America
Richard Florida / The Atlantic Cities / September 27, 2013
It’s no secret that the recovery has been incredibly uneven. Some of its biggest benefits are accruing to the one percent, while the majority of Americans have seen their economic prospects stagnate or diminish. Income inequality has surged to levels not seen since before the Great Depression.
When it comes to jobs, the recovery has been terribly uneven as well. Commentators across the political spectrum agree that jobs are a key, if not the key, indicator of the strength of America’s economic recovery. Overall, the U.S. economy added some 4.5 million jobs over the course of the recovery from 2009 to 2013. But even with an uptick in manufacturing jobs, the labor market continues to cleave into high-wage knowledge and low-wage service jobs.
Between 2009 and 2013, low-wage jobs outnumbered high-wage jobs by some 800,000, with 1.7 million versus 1.1 million jobs. Though low-wage jobs made up less than one in five (19 percent) of all employment in 2009, they accounted for nearly 40 percent (39 percent) of all new jobs created out to 2013. That’s according to an analysis by the economic data and modeling firm EMSI of three broad types of jobs: low-wage jobs that pay median wages of up to $13.83 an hour; mid-wage jobs that pay between between $13.84 and $21.13 an hour; and high-wage jobs that pay above $21.14 per hour – based upon categories developed by the National Employment Law Project.
Looked at this way, the recovery may not have been exactly jobless, but it has certainly been dominated far by poor quality, low-paying jobs.
Even more striking is how geographically uneven America’s jobs recovery has been. It’s not just that some regions have generated many more jobs. The distribution of good versus bad jobs also varies considerably by location. In some regions, low-wage jobs have grown alongside high-wage jobs. But troublingly, there are some places where low-wage positions have constituted the great bulk of recent job growth. The maps below provide detailed evidence of many of the broad trends I discussed in my essay in the October issue of The Atlantic. They chart the distribution of the three categories of jobs across America’s 52 large metros, those with more than one million people.
The data were provided by EMSI, and the maps are by my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Zara Matheson. The first set of maps charts the rate of growth of high, medium, and low-wage jobs for these 52 metros. The second set of maps is if anything more interesting, tracking the share of overall growth within these metros made up by these three types of jobs.