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U.S. Has Highest Share Working In Low-Wage Jobs, OECD Says

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According to the OECD, the U.S. is number one -- at low-wage work.
According to the OECD, the U.S. is number one -- at low-wage work.

It's not always great to be number one.

Out of all OECD countries, the U.S. had the highest share of employees toiling away at low-wage work in 2009, according to OECD data cited by Mark Thoma, an economist at the University of Oregon. The graph was originally published in a January paper by John Schmitt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

One in four U.S. employees were low-wage workers in 2009, according to the OECD. That is 20 percent higher than in the number-two country, the United Kingdom. At 4 percent, Belgium has the smallest share of its in employees working in low-wage jobs. Low-wage work is defined as earning less than two-thirds of the country's median hourly wage.

The number of employees working in low-wage jobs has been rising since 1979, according to Schmitt. And low-wage workers are better educated than ever. The percentage of low-wage workers with at least some college education has spiked 71 percent since 1979 to 43.2 percent of all low-wage workers, according to a recent analysis by Schmitt.

Schmitt drew the following conclusions from the U.S.' number-one position in low-pay work: The U.S. minimum wage is too low, economic growth doesn't necessarily lift poor people's wages, less social spending by the government is correlated with worse wages for poor people, low-wage work usually is not a stepping-stone to well-paying jobs, and working a low-wage job can often create additional problems other than the paltry pay.

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2009, according to the Labor Department. That amounts to just $15,080 per year for a person that works 40 hours per week during every week of the year: roughly equivalent to the poverty line for a two-person household.

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