Recovery Job Growth Concentrated In Low-Paying Occupations

07/26/2011 12:30 pm ET | Updated Sep 25, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Great Recession destroyed all kinds of jobs, but the not-so-great recovery has so far replaced the lowest-paying jobs at a much faster pace than higher-paying ones, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data.

Workers navigating the current labor market are facing a "significant good jobs deficit," said the National Employment Law Project, the worker advocacy group that crunched the Census numbers.

Low-wage occupations saw job growth of 3.2 percent from the beginning of 2010 to the beginning of 2011, while mid-wage jobs only grew by 1.2 percent, according to NELP. During the same time period, higher-wage jobs fell by 1.2 percent. In other words, there are more new jobs for retail salespeople, office clerks, cashiers and food prep workers than for machinists, managers, nurses and accountants.

To make matters worse, low-paying jobs pay even less than they used to, according to the report.

The skewed job growth comes after unbalanced job losses during the Great Recession.

"Of the net employment losses between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2010," NELP said in its report, "fully 60 percent were in mid-wage occupations, 21.3 percent were in lower-wage occupations and 18.7 percent were in higher-wage occupations."

The analysis confirms of one of the "new rules" workers have faced since the onset of the recession: Don't expect to make more money at your next job.

Pittsburgh's Bob Poropatich has been working 44 hours a week at a coffee shop and a grocery store since he lost his job as a manager for a major clothing retailer in 2008.

"Together both jobs pay me not even close to a third of what I made when I had just one job," Poropatich told HuffPost. "My salary used to be close to $70,000 and with an annual bonus. It's not a fortune, but it's a nice middle class salary. And now I don't know if I even make $15,000 a year."

Poropatich keeps a sense of humor even though he's found his experience frustrating, particularly when his former boss came to the coffee shop for a latte. "I live in the city of bridges so I'd have my choice of about 20 or 30," he said. "But I couldn't jump -- I can't swim!"

Although NELP's report stresses that it's too early to tell how the recovery will shake out, it also warned that the good jobs deficit is a legacy of longstanding inadequate mid-wage job growth that started before the recession began. NELP also said that the economy is still short 11 million jobs since the start of the Great Recession.

The new data update a similar report NELP did in February analyzing job losses and gains across industries. NELP did its new breakdown by putting data for 366 occupations into three groups ranked according to wages, tracking changes from 2008. Workers in the lowest-earning occupations earn between $7.51 and $13.52 per hour, while workers in the highest-ranking jobs earn between $20.67 and $53.32 per hour.

"Growing wage inequality in the United States is a phenomenon that's three decades in the making, and which the recession only exacerbated," said Annette Bernhardt, the report's author. "We need to pay attention to these striking patterns of slow and unbalanced growth as we seek ways to restore America’s economy and create the good jobs America’s workers need and deserve."

This story has been updated to include comment from Bernhardt.

Click HERE to download a PDF of the report.

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