Good Jobs and Bad Jobs In A Down Economy

Low ages work and America’s unemployment crisis. Are we headed down the wage scale? Should we be? And is that Rick Perry’s Texas model?

Crowds of job-seekers wait to enter a job fair at Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 (AP).

Crowds of job-seekers wait to enter a job fair at Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 (AP).

Brutal unemployment and presidential politics have put not just jobs but wages – low wages – in the national spotlight. Texas governor and GOP presidential contender Rick Perry brags proudly about his state’s record on job creation. Holds Texas up as a model. But no state in the country has more low-wage workers than Texas. A job’s a job, Perry seems to say.

It beats unemployment. But is this really where we’re headed as a country? Where we have to go? Lower wages? Can that be the answer?

This hour On Point: Jobs, wages, and American unemployement.

-Tom Ashbrook


Paul Osterman, professor of human Resources and management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He’s co-author of “Good Jobs America:  Making Work Better for Everyone.”

Don Baylor, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas.

Erica Grieder, Southwest correspondent for The Economist magazine.


Even a low-paying job is better than no job at all. Or is it? The coinciding pressures of globalization, outsourcing, and the sluggish economy have led many Americans to seek out low-wage work. Indeed, one in five Americans work in jobs that put them at or below the poverty line.

“Many people think that low wages jobs are the first step on a ladder…that there is a lot of upward mobility, but the data do not support that…adults get trapped in low wage jobs,” said Paul Osterman, co-author of “Good Jobs America: Making Work Better for Everyone. “I don’t think that it is a trade-off between quality and quantity if we adopt the right policies,” He wants to see more job training programs, and politics that encourage higher wages and better labor market standards.

GOP presidential contender and Texas governor Rick Perry has made jobs and his state’s job-creation policies a centerpiece of his White House bid. But critics charge that Perry’s record has been one of creating low-wage jobs.

In Lone Star State over the past six years, the share of hourly workers making at or below the minimum wage has increased more than any other state in the union, said Don Baylor, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. “We’re going to see a certain amount of low wage jobs, that’s part of the game. But when you look at the trends, the trends are not very good. The only high-wage industry that appears to be growing in Texas is national resources and mining. That’s only four percent of the labor force.”

Others contend that the jobs picture, particularly in Texas, is more complicated. “We’re not in a position to be snooty about the jobs that they’ve created in Texas,” said Erica Grieder, the Southwest correspondent for The Economist magazine. “I wouldn’t characterize [what’s being done in Texas] as a ‘low-wage jobs’ strategy. I think it is a more general ‘create all the jobs you can’ strategy.’”


Caller Richard from Essex, New York I work in higher education, but I think that what is happening where I work is a reflection of this economy. I’m an adjunct faculty and teach more than the load of a full-time faculty member. And I get $2,500 a course. So, I teach eight courses, while a full-time faculty member teaches six. I earn less than half the lowest paid lectureship.

Tom Ashbrook What does that mean in terms of what you take home, Richard?

Richard I take home $20,000 per year, which puts me below the poverty level. I have a family of four. People may say that this is a part-time job, but…I work] 60-80 hours per week…I require food stamps for my family. I require heat subsidy and subsidy for day care for my five-year old. It’s a desperate situation.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “In their new book, “Good Jobs America: Making Work Better for Everyone,” Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman argue that the United States needs to worry about not just creating millions more jobs but also ensuring that the jobs are good ones. By good jobs, the authors mean jobs that pay enough to support a family and provide decent, safe conditions. The authors voice concern that many middle-class jobs have disappeared or deteriorated into low-wage ones that cause families to fall below the poverty line.”

The Economist “Barack Obama began his first term trying to turn around a struggling economy and reassure an electorate consumed by anxiety about jobs. It increasingly looks as though he will end it in the same way. On September 2nd the government reported no net jobs were created in August. To be precise, private firms created 17,000 jobs while governments trimmed payrolls by the same amount. Adjusting for striking mobile-phone company workers, underlying private job growth was actually more like 60,000, consistent with an economy still growing; but barely.”

The Hill “A number of leading economists on Wednesday said Congress and the White House should focus their energy on growing the economy rather than creating jobs. The experts convened by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce generally agreed that laggard economic growth is the main problem facing the economy. But with the president’s big jobs address coming Thursday, Washington’s focus has turned to cutting the 9.1 percent unemployment rate. Policymakers might have it backwards, the economists said.”

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