Tony Gutierrez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Workers in low-wage jobs have lost a greater share of their take-home pay during the recession than higher-wage workers, according to a recent study of data from the bureau of labor statistics conducted by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-income workers.
The study found that wages dropped over all occupations by 2.8 percent between 2009 and 2012, despite the fact that productivity increased by 4.5 percent over the same time period. But while wages in the highest income jobs only declined by less than 2 percent, wages fell 5 percent or more in five of the largest low-wage job categories: restaurant cooks, food preparation workers, home health aides, personal care aides, and maids and housekeepers.
"Corporations are reaping the financial benefits of an increasingly productive workforce, but the recent decline in wages shows that these gains are not being shared with the people actually doing the work," NELP director Christine Owens told the Huffington Post.
The data is particularly relevant because the greatest number of jobs being added to the economy are in the same exact sectors where wages have decreased the most. A 2012 NELP study analyzing data from the Current Population Survey found that during the recession, the largest concentration of employment losses were in middle-wage jobs like electricians, truck drivers and administrative assistants. However, during the recovery, the biggest job gains have been in low-wage service occupations like retail salespersons, waiters and food preparers.
That study found that while mid-wage jobs accounted for 60 percent of the jobs lost in the recession, they made up only 22 percent of the recovery. In contrast, low-wage jobs were 21 percent of recession losses, but comprised 58 percent of recovery growth.
The Fiscal Times says that part of the explanation for the growth in these low-wage sectors may be the Affordable Care Act. While growth of jobs in leisure sectors is usually a sign of a "healthy economy," in this case, it may be a reaction to the ACA's requirement that employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide affordable insurance to employees working 30-plus hours a week or pay a fine. This might be leading employers of service workers to hire more part-time workers. But some, such as Tim Fernholz at Quartz, believe such speculation may be "merely anecdotal" and not supported by data.