Jobs That Pay Less Than $15 an Hour Are Replacing Higher Wage Work

Written by Bryce Covert

A growing share of the country’s jobs pay less than $15 an hour, replacing higher wage jobs, according to a new report from the Alliance for a Just Society.

The number of jobs in occupations that pay a median wage below $15 an hour grew by 3.6 million between 2009 and 2012, increasing by about 3 percent. During the same time period, the number of jobs that pay above that level fell by 4 million. There were more than 51 million jobs paying less than $15 an hour last year. Someone making $15 an hour working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year will make $31,200, while experts say a two-income family with two kids needs $72,000 a year to be economically secure.

The report also notes that there is a huge number of people vying for the jobs that pay better. It calculates that there were seven job seekers for every projected job opening that paid above $15 an hour in 2012 and 17.9 million more job hunters than higher wage jobs.

The report is the latest to find that low-wage work has grown in the post-recovery economy at the expense of better paid jobs. Since the end of the recession, most of the jobs added have paid less than $13.83 an hour, while middle class jobs have dropped off. One in four American workers is expected to be in low-wage work over the next decade.

To help raise the living standard of the growing number of workers who find themselves in the lowest paid work, cities and states have been raising their minimum wages. On Election Day this year, voters in New Jersey increased their wage to $8.25 an hour with automatic increases tied to inflation and voters in a small town in Washington state increased their wage to $15 an hour. Voters also approved raises in Albuquerque, N.M.; San Jose, Calif.; and Long Beach, Calif., in the 2012 election. Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C. council unanimously voted to raise the city’s wage to $11.50 an hour at the beginning of the month and the Massachusetts state Senate passed an increase to $11 an hour with automatic raises. A handful of other states are also working on potential raises. The action comes while federal lawmakers have let the national wage remain at $7.25 an hour for four years, although President Obama and Democratic Congressmen have backed a hike to $10 an hour. If the wage had kept up with inflation, it would be over $10 an hour, and if it had kept up with increasing worker productivity, it would be over $20 an hour.

Workers have also demanded a higher wage. Fast food workers staged the largest strike in the history of the industry this month in 100 cities, a movement that has spread rapidly across the country. They’ve been demanding a raise to $15 an hour and the right to form a union. Walmart workers have also been walking off the job, with nine strikes in November and mass protests on Black Friday, to call for better pay and an end to retaliation.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock


June Jarka
June J.2 years ago

I think that alot of the problems here are caused by the Conservative Tea Party (Republican right wing extremists) who have dome everything that they can to stymie and block Barack Obama from achieving anything and lie the blame on him. They are angry because one of their own members is not the President and they can't do everything that they want to, such as dismantling what's left of the social security/welfare, health and public education systems. This action is just all part of their agenda. Remember your fiscal crisis in Washington earlier this year which received worldwide attention and condemnation of the Republican Tea Party members? They are the ones creating all of this unproductivity and meyhem, not Barack Obama. The Republican Party members didn't succeed in destroying Barack Obama; all they did was show everyone how much they are prepared to bring a nation to its knees to get what they want and they almost destroyed it. Look to the rabid right, not the so called 'loony' left.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

This is due to Obama's policies and ObamaCare! Thanks Obama!

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

The time has come for a monthly stipend of a living wage be paid to every one over 18 directly from our own treasury to stabilize the whole economy.Enough of this 'who deserves what' stupidity. That has nothing to do with what is needed. When money is injected at the top, it does not trickle down, but when it is spread around at the base, it bubbles upward. Political will is what's needed and that has to start with all of us.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Indeed Scott. I predicted this was coming 40 years ago. But we have an ele,emt in this country that feels labor is required to feed yourself……….even if there IS no labor. Our society and government better start coming to grips with the idea soon. They better start implemtning plans to deal with it. But oh NOOOOOOOOOO I hear chanting from my right.. COMMUNISM COMMUNISM….SOCIALISM. Those will become meaningless words in the future where labor is no longer needed……but we will still judge the unmployed as lazy louts trying to lower the standar of living of wealtheir people by keeeping the poorer of us alive.

Scott haakon
Scott haakon2 years ago

ROFL! People times change! Technology changes. In the coming future the US will not need as many workers. Even the havens for cheap labor will fall to the growth of technology. But we are not preparing for that.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K.2 years ago

I'm an RN, too, Linda, and I know exactly what you mean and agree with you. Nurses are unionized here in NY, but our pay and benefits have never gotten overly generous. I look at what workers on the rail road, or cops and firefighters can rack up, and it enrages me. The price of train tickets go up year after year, as do my local taxes to pay for the cops and firefighters, who have contracts that allow them to utilize overtime in their last year or two to boost the salary on which their retirement benefits are calculated, and they get to retire after 20 years, unlike the teachers. I understand the appeal of all the conservative arguments, I just don't buy them any more, because the jury is in - those high union wages and benefits drove up the wages and benefits of non union workers everywhere else, and most of the cost to pay for those middle class livings came out of the pockets of the owner class.

When you look at the packages negotiated by nurses unions, which typically have an upward limit on pay and benefits so the person who's been at the hospital for 25 years stopped getting raises a while back, you have to wonder if maybe the answer is to have only women union heads. We seem so much better able than men to see the big picture and are far less concerned with winning Pyrrhic victories than the testosterone set.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

Cont - I am also not blaming the average citizen consumer for the cheap Chinese crap but if they can afford it, buying US/Canada made is one way of freezing the cheap stuff out. If it doesn't sell it becomes redundant. Sadly, all many can afford is the cheap crap. I refuse to go to Walmart but fortunately can afford not to. As you say, good quality lasts & so, in the long run, is more economical. The world runs on the premise of short term thinking & redundancy now, hence the cheap, crappy products. The CEO's also run on that premise & haven't seemed to clue in that impoverished workers can't buy anything & the economy tanks.
I definitely DO NOT think the US is better off without unions & their destruction is a crime against working people. Unions prevented workers from being completely subservient to their employers & gave them a voice. Many people alive now don't realize what a labourer was treated like before unions. All they have to do is look at places like China, hell holes.

Linda McKellar
Past Member 2 years ago

Hi Cathleen. I agree that the "suits" in the auto industry did not have the smarts to change with the times. I also realize unions were created because of a need & are now being destroyed solely to give the executives financial control over their employees. In the article on low paying jobs I emphasized the point that unions were essential when created & were suppressed by the "suits" to the point of murdering rioters. Someone mentioned Ford realizing he had to pay his workers fairly so they could afford to buy what they produced (though he was a bastard in many other ways). Both the unions and suits shared some blame in the case of the auto industry. I think you would agree however that my job had responsibilities & education that far surpassed those at GM & that did frost my tights at the time & seemed very unfair. Even now, at least in Canada, their retirement benefits far surpass mine after 40 years of employment. Retiree medical costs, as with all medical costs in the US are the killers.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K.2 years ago

Continued from below: If you pick them both up and imagine using them, you'll buy B, because you know it's not going to buckle and dump your cookies on the floor as you're pulling them out of the oven, something all too likely to happen with A, and you'll realize that B is going to outlast A by years. However, if you just glance at them, which is all most people do with an inexpensive, utilitarian object like a cookie sheet, you'll buy the cheaper one. That's just human nature - thinking short term, where you get to keep your $3. The financialization of our entire economy has led to nothing but short term thinking. When companies were owned by individuals, they made decisions about the long term health of the company. Now that they're owned by shareholders, quarterly stock reports guide all decision making, and that's no way to run a company or a country.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K.2 years ago

Continued from below: Do either of you think that North America is now a better place with the power of the unions destroyed and the majority of the money generated by our economies flowing into an ever shrinking number of wallets? John apparently longs for the good old days of spontaneously combusting rivers and very visible air. Have you seen any photos of Chinese cities recently, John? Guaranteeing that most of your population drops dead by the time they are 50 is certainly one way of dealing with the problem of taking care of seniors, but I have a funny feeling it's not going to be popular with the citizens.

The Chinese are 'free' to export all the cheap crap to the US that Congress lets them. Very few countries allow their markets to be flooded with cheap imports that destroy the businesses at home, because it's bad for the majority of the citizens while very beneficial to the tiny minority who own those foreign factories. You want to blame ordinary Americans for buying cheaper, and to a certain extent, you're right. Comparison shopping between the small number of items still made in America and their cheaper Chinese counterparts at Walmart should cause buyers to buy American because the products themselves are visibly better, but you have to be smart enough to look beyond the $6 tag on cookie sheet A and the $9 tag on B. If you pick them both up and imagine using them, you'll buy B because you know it's not going to buckle and dump your cookies on the floor