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April Jobs Report: ‘We’re Still Millions of Jobs in the Hole’—And the Wage Picture is ‘Bleak’

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Yes, all of the U.S. jobs lost to the Great Recession were recovered by mid-2014. But “we didn’t manage to create enough new jobs to satisfy the shortfall” in positions that would have been made “had the economy kept chugging along at a reasonably normal pace,” writes Suzanne McGee at The Guardian. And the “wage picture is bleaker still.”

“The latest batch of jobs data, released Friday, showed the economy added 223,000 jobs in April taking the unemployment rate down to 5.4%, its lowest since 2008,” McGee continues. “Average hourly wages, however, only grew by 3% in April, taking year-on-year gains to 2.2%.”

Many of the jobs that were lost during the recession were middle-wage jobs, or even those that could generate a high salary – paying as much as $32 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. Mid-wage and high-wage jobs accounted for 79% of jobs lost during the recession, the thinktank calculated; as of August 2012, they represented only 42% of those created during the recovery. The gap was filled by low-wage jobs: only 21% of jobs lost during the recession were those making less than $13.83 an hour, but they make up the majority of new jobs created during the recovery.

So, what will matter more than the number of new jobs created, the unemployment rate or even the long-term unemployment rate (another figure that niggles at many economists) is how much money those employed Americans will have at their disposal to spend. As Sanders has pointed out, it isn’t much, because the benefits of the recovery have flowed, disproportionately, to the richest citizens – those who have had the ability to invest in financial assets and profit from the rebound in the stock market. …

Barely half of Americans now see themselves as being part of the middle class, down from 63% in 2000, and well below the 61% average in the years leading up to 2008. That’s an astonishing fact for a country whose central philosophy revolves around providing its citizens with opportunities to rise in the world. The problem is that the more unequal a society is, the more unequal it is likely to remain – and we’re actually a lot less mobile than we think we are, even if our perception is catching up to our reality.

The ugly truth is that of those born into the poorest 20% of the population, only 10% will ever make it into the top quintile; nearly three-quarters won’t even break out of that bottom tier and into the middle income. Since ultra-low wages not only harm individuals – limiting their job prospects and earnings power, their ability to both save and spend – but also their community and the broader economy, it’s in all our interests to ensure that the salaries those in that bottom quintile collect aren’t impossible to live on. Consider the plight of blue-collar workers in places such as Silicon Valley, some of whom are on the verge of being driven out even from the area’s last remaining trailer parks – the area’s last affordable “housing”.

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—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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