National Journal

Although the economy shed thousands of middle-wage jobs during the Great Recession, the bulk of the employment gains since then have been in low-wage arenas such as retail, food-service, and home-care industries, according to a new report released by the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research group.

Low-wage jobs, defined as those that pay no more than $13.83 an hour, accounted for 21 percent of recession job losses but have accounted for 58 percent of the recovery growth.

At the same time, middle-wage occupations (jobs with an average hourly rate between $13.84 and $21.13) accounted for 60 percent of the jobs losses, yet accounted for only 22 percent of the job growth, according to the NELP study which analyzed federal census and labor data. The report largely used the Current Population Survey, which is a joint project of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The figures also showed that high-wage paying jobs (those paying from $21.14 and up to $54.55) experienced strong growth.

The uneven recovery means that long-term income and wealth inequality in the U.S. will continue to increase for years to come, according to the study.

Among the low-wage jobs that will continue to see more growth by 2020 are retail personnel, food-preparation worker, office clerk, and grounds-maintenance worker — for which the annual gross salary would be no more than $28,350 in current dollars, according to the report.

"The recovery continues to be skewed toward low-wage jobs, reinforcing the rise in inequality and America's deficit of good jobs," Annette Bernhardt, NELP's policy codirector, said in a statement.

But the shrinking middle-wage occupations are part of a longer-term trend,  according to a New York Times report. Continuing government layoffs factor into the downward movement of those who were once middle-wage earners.

There are 586,000 fewer government jobs now than in December 2008, a Wall Street Journal article reported, citing Labor Department figures. The government sector has continued to shed jobs in public schools as well as local and state agencies. For example, about 15,000 government jobs were lost in April, according to WSJ.

A vast majority of Americans (89 percent) believe that the foremost ticket to the middle class is a secure job, trumping education, homeownership, and stock and bond investments, an August Pew Research Center study found. The nationwide survey of 2,508 adults didn't address wages.

This story is part of our Next America: Workforce project, which is supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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