America’s Changing Economy

Income inequality at a record high. A Great Recession that, for most, continues today. And, as our 15th annual Job Gap study finds, a fundamental shift in our economy toward a greater share of low-wage, non-sustaining jobs.

This economic recovery has been tough on the American worker. By official measures, the recession that began in December 2007 ended in June 2009, and the U.S. economy has been growing since then. However, a variety of indicators show a trend of growing inequality in which, for a broad swath of workers and families across America, the tough economic times continue.

While the reported unemployment rate has been decreasing, driving that change is a shrinking labor force. In fact, the percentage of Americans in the labor force — defined as those employed or actively seeking employment — has reached a 35-year low.

The impacts of the Great Recession are so profound that America’s economy must now be analyzed as pre- and post-recession. Today, we discover — through our own data analyses and research by others — evidence of a new standard of living for the American worker, with low-wage, non-sustaining jobs replacing jobs that pay better wages.

This shift can be quantified through an analysis of national wages and employment.

Some Key Findings in Our Report:

• Nearly 18 Million Job-Seekers Out of Luck: With 20.8 million job-seekers and 2.9 million projected job openings that pay better than $15 an hour in 2012, there were 17.9 million more job-seekers than jobs that pay above the low-wage threshold.

• An Increasing Share of Low-Wage Jobs since End of Great Recession: In terms of actual employment rather than projected openings, the share of U.S. jobs that pay below the $15 an hour low-wage threshold increased from 36.55% in 2009 to 39.45% in 2012. There were 51.4 million low-wage jobs in 2012.

• ‘Jobless Recovery’ Masks Loss of Higher-Wage Jobs, Replacement with Low-Wage Jobs: The number of jobs in occupational categories with median wages above $15 an hour dropped by 4 million from 2009 to 2012, masked by an increase of 3.6 million jobs with median wages below $15 an hour.

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