Introduction

There exists a popular myth in this country that with hard work anyone should be able to get ahead – and, at the very least, that a full-time job should ensure that workers are able to make ends meet. Unfortunately, for millions of workers living-wage work is out of reach – especially for women, Latinos and Latinas,1 and workers of color who are more likely to work part-time.

The Alliance for a Just Society has been releasing reports on available living wage jobs since 1999. This year, the report calculates how many job seekers there are nationally for each job opening that pays at least $15 across the country. The national living wage for a single adult is actually $16.87 per hour, based on the weighted average of living wages across the country. However, a $15 wage is used in our national analysis in part because, in most states, a wage of at least $15 per hour is necessary for a single adult to make ends meet. Additionally, a $15 wage floor has been established by cities across the country seeking to raise that floor from current state and federal minimums, which are widely recognized as being grossly inadequate.

Because there is variation in living wages between states, which for a single adult range from $14.26 (Arkansas) to in $21.86 (Washington, D.C.), the ratio of job seekers to living wage job openings is also calculated in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. based on each state’s living wage for a single adult.

Throughout the country, more people are looking for work than there are jobs available. The shortfall in jobs is even greater when living wages are taken into account. In no state are there enough job openings to allow everyone looking for work to find a job, and nowhere are there fewer than three job seekers for every job opening that allows a single adult to make ends meet.

Nationally, for jobs that pay at least $15 per hour, there are seven job seekers for every job opening.

As the Alliance has previously discussed,1 the shortage of living-wage jobs is due in part to the fact that the fastest-growing occupations tend to pay low wages, with four of the top five of these occupations paying less than $15 per hour. However, all of these occupations – including Registered Nurses, which pays over $15 per hour – are more likely to be part-time than are occupations overall, making it even harder for these workers to make ends meet.

So, while the median wage for retail salespeople and restaurant servers – two other leading occupations – requires more than one full-time job to make ends meet,2 the prevalence of part-time work in these occupations means that servers and retail salespeople might have to work three or four different jobs to get in enough hours to support themselves. 

Part-time work and low wages especially impact women, Latinos and Latinas, and people of color. As the Alliance reported last year, only 52 percent of full-time workers of color earn $15 per hour or more, including 51 percent of black workers and 50 percent of Native American workers.3 Additionally, only 42 percent of full-time Latino and Latina workers and only 57 percent of female workers earn at least $15 per hour.4 However, women, Latinas and Latinos, and workers of color are also more likely to work part-time in most states and nationally, making it even more difficult for them to make ends meet.

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Background

As the Alliance has discussed in previous reports in this series, the occupations with the most job openings are part-time, representing a shift toward low-wage work.5 While low-wage jobs already represented a significant share of job openings before the Great Recession of 2008,6 in the years since then much of the job growth and recovery has been in low-wage service sector occupations.7

Along with low-wage service industry growth, the incidence of part-time work has also increased. In 2006 and 2007, part-time workers made up 17 percent of all workers.8 In the years since, part-time workers have made up 19-20 percent of all workers. More importantly, though, the share of involuntary part-time workers (also referred to as those working part-time for economic reasons) has increased substantially. While involuntary part-time workers made up only 11 percent of all part-time workers before the Great Recession, since then they have consistently made up more than 20 percent of all part-time workers.

As Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project noted in 2014, “During a recession, it’s normal for employers to cut costs by cutting hours.9” However, rather than returning to pre-recession norms, many employers have let part-time work become business as usual.

In addition to fewer hours, part-time work also includes a number of other obstacles to making ends meet. For example, unpredictable and/or on-call scheduling are more common for part-time workers than for workers overall, 10 and can make it nearly impossible to work more than one part-time job.

Additionally, the practice of having the same worker close up one night and open the next morning, or “clopening” continues,11 though a growing backlash against the practice has already spurred some businesses to abandon the practice.12 Even if individual employers abandon the practice, though, workers with multiple jobs can still find themselves closing up at one job and opening at another.

Part-time workers also are subject to high rates of wage theft, including being forced to work during unpaid breaks13 or being asked to clock out before finishing their work.14

Finally, part-time workers are less likely than other workers to have employer-sponsored health insurance, paid time off, and other work supports and benefits,15 and may have to spend more time commuting between jobs.16 This means that the true cost of living for these workers may actually be even greater than for full-time workers.

The shift to low-wage work, then, not only means lower wages. For many workers, it means fewer hours at lower wages, unpredictable schedules, wage theft, and a lack of work supports that make it impossible to ever get ahead.

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National Findings

The previous report in this series calculated a living wage for a single adult in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. However, that living wage assumes full-time work on a year-round basis.

For many job seekers, finding a job that meets those requirements is impossible. There are not enough living wage jobs to go around, and the occupations with the most jobs available are more likely to include part-time work. For women, Latinos and Latinas, and people of color – who are less likely to be paid a living wage or, in most places, less likely to get a full-time job – making ends meet can be impossible.

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There are not enough living wage jobs to go around

In 2014, there were 17.7 million job seekers and only about 5 million job openings, leaving almost 13 million job seekers completely excluded from employment. Of those 5 million job openings, though, nearly half paid less than $15 per hour, leaving only 2.7 million that paid $15 or more per hour. That leaves a Job Gap Ratio of seven job seekers for every job opening that pays at least $15 per hour .

While the numbers vary across the country, in no state are there enough jobs to go around. In fact, in 34 states, job openings that allow a single adult to make ends meet account for less than half of all openings in the state. Further, nowhere are there fewer than three job seekers for every living wage job, leaving at least two-thirds of job seekers in every state unable to get a living wage job.

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Jobs with the most openings are low-wage and more likely to be part-time

A national analysis of the top five occupations with the most projected job openings finds that four out of five have a median wage of less than $15 per hour. While nationally about 26 percent of workers report working less than 40 hours per week, all five of the fastest growing occupations have a greater proportion of part-time workers than in occupations overall. Additionally, women, Latinos, Latinas, and workers of color are overrepresented in these low-wage, often part-time occupations.17

The occupation category with the most projected job openings, Retail Salespersons, pays a median wage of only $10.29 per hour. While this is significantly greater than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, it still falls well short of what a single adult needs to make ends meet.18 Additionally, 47 percent of retail workers reported working less than 40 hours per week. If the same proportion holds true for job openings, that means that about 92,000 of the more than 195,000 openings for retail salespersons are part-time.

Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food Workers is the occupation category with the second most projected openings, but the lowest paying occupation overall at $8.85 per hour. Fast food workers in particular are much more likely to work part-time than full-time, with 64 percent of fast food workers reporting working less than 40 hours per week. If the same proportion holds true for job openings, this means that about 100,000 of the nearly 156,000 openings for fast food  workers are part-time.

Cashiers, the occupation category with the third most projected openings, pays $9.16 per hour. But, like fast food workers, cashiers are much more likely to work part-time than are workers overall, with 64 percent of cashiers reporting part-time work. If the same proportion holds true for job openings, about 98,000 of the 153,000 openings for cashiers are part-time.

The category Waiters and Waitresses has the fourth most openings and has a median wage of $9.01 per hour. However, as mentioned in the previous report in this series, many waiters and waitresses are paid an even lower tipped minimum wage, so some of these servers make significantly less than that median wage.19 Additionally, waiters and waitresses are the most likely of the occupations with most openings to report part-time work, with 67 percent reporting that they worked fewer than 40 hours per week. This means that about 85,000 of the nearly 127,000 openings for waiters and waitresses are part-time, if that proportion holds true for job openings in this occupation.

Finally, while the occupation with the fifth most openings, Registered Nurses, has a median wage significantly higher than $15 per hour at $32.04, workers in this occupation also report a higher rate of part-time work than do workers overall. Thirty-nine percent of registered nurses reported working fewer than 40 hours per week. If that rate holds true for job openings, almost 42,000 of the more than 105,000 job openings for registered nurses are also part-time.

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Unequal Hours

Full-time work is not equitably distributed by race, ethnicity, or gender; instead, women, Latinos, Latinas, and workers of color are more likely to report working part-time than are workers overall, with a bigger discrepancy in gender than in race or ethnicity.

While nationally about 26 percent of all workers reported working fewer than 40 hours per week, a slightly smaller percentage of white workers (25 percent) and a slightly higher percentage of all workers of color (27 percent) reported working part-time. Additionally, about 28 percent of black workers reported working fewer than 40 hours per week, as did 30 percent of Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander workers20 and 30 percent of Native American workers. Similarly, about 28 percent of Latina and Latino workers reported working part-time.

Women were much more likely to report working part-time than were men. While only 17 percent of men reported working fewer than 40 hours per week, 35 percent of women reported part-time hours. For Latinas and women of color, this disparity also held true, though all Latinos and men of color were also more likely to work part-time than were workers overall. For example, while only 25.6 percent of Native American men reported working part-time, more than 36 percent of Native American women reported the same. For Latinas, the disparity was even greater, with 37.4 percent of Latinas reporting part-time work compared to just 21 percent of Latinos.

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