One of the most troubling trends of the last business cycle is the continued decline in good jobs. As colleagues at the National Employment Project have ably documented (here and updated here), job losses during the recession were concentrated in mid-wage occupations, while job gains during the recovery have been concentrated at the low end. This is not an artifact of a growing educational gap, in which workers with skills pull away from everyone else. Indeed as colleagues at the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown (here and here and here), today’s low wage workers are older and better educated than ever. And it is not just an artifact of the business cycle. The Department of Labor’s long-term projections for job growth by occupation estimate that about a third of new jobs through the next decade will be in low-wage service occupations (retail, home health care, child care, janitorial).
I have charted these projections for Iowa (the most current state level numbers are for 2008-2018) below, and it is not pretty. Employment numbers for 2008 run up the vertical axis; projected gains or losses through 2018 run across the horizontal axis—so that the high-share, high growth jobs are in the upper right. Occupations are shaded according to their median hourly wage in 2011, those in blue paying higher than the statewide median wage, those in red paying lower (you can mouse over the dots to see the occupation, its 2008 employment, its median wage, and its projected employment). Only 4 of 18 occupations projecting job gains over 1,500 by 2018 pay better than a median wage, and only one of the 10 occupations projecting job gains over 2,000 pay better than the median. Six occupations (retail sales, office clerk, nursing aides, home health aides, food preparation, and customer service) project job growth greater than 4,000 and the highest wage in this group falls more than $2.00 of the median wage.