Labor - And A Whole Lot More

We've Providing The Wrong Kind Of New Jobs

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Sure, we're steadily recovering from the Great Recession. But there's a catch, a very important catch. Well over half of the new jobs that are being added to the economy are low-paying, non-union jobs.

That's made painfully clear in a new report from the National Employment Law Project – NELP, as it's called.  NELP reports that the median hourly pay of those holding the new low-paying, generally non-union jobs, is only $7.69 to $13.83.  For those at the lower end, that's barely above the federal minimum wage.

By contrast, the median hourly rates for higher paid workers range from at least  $20 an hour to more than $50 an hour. The lower-paid workers mainly include sales and office clerks, workers involved in food preparation, waiters and waitresses, laborers and home care aides.

Some of the lower-paid workers are young people just entering the labor force, such as recent high school and college graduates. But even more are older workers who lost better-paying jobs in the recession. The increase in those low-paying jobs has added greatly to the growing inequality among America's working people, with steadily increasing numbers of them earning lower pay than others.

The best way out of that dilemma, though NELP doesn't say so specifically, is to spread unionization.  For unionized workers invariably are paid better than their non-union counterparts, whatever their jobs.

Men or women, young or old, whatever their race, union membership gives workers a clear economic advantage.

That's not to mention the greater voice in political and community affairs and in the very nature of their work that unionization provides workers, along with protection from arbitrary employer actions.

Actually, notes the NELP report's author, Annette Bernhardt, the U.S. labor market was in trouble before the Great Recession, as the result of three decades of growing wage inequality and the shrinking number of well-paying jobs. Greater unionization, of course, could certainly help.

Bernhardt, in fact, cites the decline in unionization as one of the main reasons for  the past as well as present  economic troubles. That and the decline in the purchasing power of the minimum wage.

Bernhardt also cited the breaking of the implied social contract between employers and workers generally.  She notes that although workers' productivity has been growing steadily, that has not been reflected in the pay of most workers.

Bernhardt sees a great need for extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, creating jobs by repairing our infrastructure and helping states  avoid more layoffs of  public employees.

But it remains certain that whatever else, spreading unionization is essential if we are to raise the miserably low pay and status of  so many American workers. Merely helping them find jobs is not enough. The jobs must pay them decently. And they will, but only if they are union jobs.

Copyright © 2012  Dick Meister