Executive Summary

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Workers are falling short financially in our nation, and there are few living wage jobs to go around. With most of America’s job growth taking place in low-wage occupations, the reality facing workers is clear: America is becoming a low-wage nation and, without action, the living wage crisis will only continue to worsen.

In this study, we define a living wage as the pay a full-time worker needs to earn to make basic ends meet, with a little left over to plan for emergencies and get ahead. For the purposes of our national and 49-state analysis, we use a $15 wage, in 2013 dollars, to represent a living wage.

This is a conservative approximation of a living wage. Based on past Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series studies, a $15 hourly wage is not enough to make ends meet in many states and counties, even for a single individual who does not have child care costs. In the 10 states where we calculate living wages, in only two is $15 enough for a single individual to make basic ends meet. And, when factoring in child care costs, living wage levels are significantly higher than $15.

The following findings are based on an Alliance analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics data from 2013 and earlier, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey one-year estimates from 2013. In this analysis we examine both existing employment levels by industry and occupation and wages for projected job openings.

We live in a nation where workers are not earning enough to make ends meet, and have few options to increase their wages.

•A large proportion of workers are not earning living wages: Nearly two of five existing jobs pay less than $15 an hour.

•Nearly half of new jobs are low-wage jobs: About 48 percent of projected national job openings do not pay $15 or higher. In analyzing individual states, that percentage ranges from 35 percent (Massachusetts) to 61 percent (South Dakota).

•There are not enough living wage jobs to go around: Nationally, there are seven times more job-seekers than there are projected jobs paying $15 or higher, leaving workers seeking better wages with few options.

Most of America’s job growth is taking place in low-wage occupations.

• Largest-growing occupations don’t pay living wages: Among the top 10 occupations with the most projected job openings, just one has a median wage greater than $15 an hour. The four occupations with the greatest projected number of job openings are in retail and food service, with median wages ranging between $8.81 and $10.16 an hour. Many of these low-wage, high-growth occupations disproportionately employ women and people of color, negatively affecting their chances of making ends meet.

• Largest-growing jobs are among the lowest-paying: Two of the top five occupations with the most projected job openings also rank among the top five in lowest pay.

For workers to make ends meet, raise wages, strengthen support systems, and invest in higher-wage industries like health care.

•Invest in higher-pay industries, like the health care sector: Out of the 61 “Healthcare Practitioners and Technical” occupations defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just two have a median wage that is less than $15 an hour. Even in the lower-paying “Healthcare Support Occupations,” the majority of occupations pay more than $12 per hour, significantly above the federal minimum wage. Investing in health care and other higher-wage industries can reverse the trend of primarily low-wage job growth.

• Increase the minimum wage to benefit workers in all industries: Raising the wage floor would move all occupations toward providing wages that can meet basic needs.

•Strengthen support systems: Federal and state programs like food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and child care subsidies help working families earning less than a living wage get by.

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