May 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm
The stalwart Bureau of Labor Statistics happened to release a new report on workers by occupation that caught my eye in the context of my earlier post regarding skill demands in occupations expected to add the most jobs.
This release focuses on jobs and wages in the hundreds of occupations that comprise our job market today (more precisely, from May 2010), and the chart below shows the top ten occupations with the most jobs. Together, these jobs accounted for more than 20% of all jobs—that’s over 25 million jobs.
What’s notable here again is that, with a few exceptions (e.g., registered nurses) these are not jobs that typically demand high levels of education. Moreover, as numerous commenters noted, they are jobs that risk being of low quality. As the Bureau notes:
“Most of the largest occupations were relatively low paying. Of the 10 largest occupations, only registered nurses had an average wage above the U.S. all-occupations mean of $21.35 per hour or $44,410 annually. Combined food preparation and serving workers, cashiers, and waiters and waitresses were the three lowest paying of the 10 largest occupations, and also among the lowest-paying occupations overall.”
So why am I harping on this point?
Not, I repeat, because we should devalue higher education. As I stressed earlier, that remains key for individual mobility, a more productive economy, and even fewer divorces.
My point is that along with—not instead of!—policies that make higher education more accessible, we need strategies to improve the quality of these jobs as well. The fact is, as the table in the earlier post showed, we expect to create a lot more of these types of jobs in the future (note that they’re in the “non-tradable” sector so they’re not going overseas).
Commenters mentioned unions and minimum wages, and they have traditionally helped raise wages in service jobs. Working training can help too, though when you hear people talking about cutting “discretionary spending,” that’s where many of those training dollars reside.
But here’s another point to keep in mind. The last time pay in jobs like these really went up was in the latter 1990s, when labor demand was strong and unemployment was low (and btw, immigration flows were greater in those years than they are now).
From the perspective of the workers who hold these types of jobs, there may be no social program more effective than full employment.
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