The National Employment Law Project took a closer look at employment and jobs-growth data in February. What it found wasn't encouraging. The advocacy group says that just 14 percent of recent job growth comes from high-wage industries. About half comes from low-wage industries. According to NELP's report, restaurants and food services businesses, "especially" fast food outlets, comprised 7 percent of hiring. And most gigs, NELP found, came "from rapid hiring by the temp industry," meaning the positions that often come without benefits, health care, or much income security.Oh well, so much for, "there's always work at the post office." But hey, if Ole boy "Calvin" could do it, surely grown men and women can. Besides, I'm pretty sure "Calvin" owns a franchise by now, and is no longer on fries. And you know, that's when the big bucks start rolling in, right?
The picture contributes to a larger, yet equally depressing, labor-market story: The country has produced far too few good, stable, middle-income jobs over the past 10 or 20 years, not just the past three. One of the most prominent economists making this case is David Autor of MIT. "Two forces are rapidly shifting the quality of jobs, reshaping the distribution of earnings and job opportunities," he writes in a recent paper. One is educational stagnation among men and gains among women. The other is "employment polarization, whereby job opportunities are increasingly concentrated in high-skill, high-wage jobs and in low-skill, low-wage jobs." Thus comes the frightening possibility of a "barbell" shaped economy, with jobs at places like fast food joints and universities—but not a lot of jobs in between.
There are more optimistic economists (though the discipline's nickname is no accident). Harry Holzer, a professor at Georgetown and former chief economist for the Labor Department, says that the recession has distorted the jobs picture, and that present trends are not permanent. "Early on in a recovery, a lot of the hiring is temporary and low-end," he explains. "In an uncertain labor market, it's easier to hire those workers. Those jobs don't entail a big commitment—no training, no paying a lot of benefits." As the recovery strengthens, he expects the economy to add more and better middle- and high-income positions.
But for the time being, the economy will take any jobs it can get. Besides, those McJobs might be nothing to mock. Several of McDonald's current executives started behind the counter, as did half of the company's owner-operators and 75 percent of its restaurant managers. A low-paying job need not stay a low-paying job forever. And a low-paying job is decidedly better than none at all.
QUESTION(S):If you were unemployed, could you see yourself applying for one of those 50,000 jobs? How many weeks of unemployment would it take to break you, and is it worth it?