There Aren’t Enough ‘Good’ Jobs

A while ago, I noted what should be obvious about poverty-level wages: as long as there is a job that does not pay a living wage, one of us will have to fill it. There’s a flip side to that coin–conservatives can hardly tell people to go find ‘good jobs’ if there are too few good jobs to be had. So, are there no good jobs? Well (boldface mine):

Ryan’s inner city men, who have never “learned the value and the culture of work,” are therefore not merely failing, but failing specifically as men, by failing to provide for their families.

The problem with this neat little morality tale is captured by what ought to be some startling statistics. Note that another unstated assumption behind comments such as Ryan’s is that the American economy actually produces enough decent-paying jobs to allow a reasonable number of Americans to have such jobs, as long as they embrace “the culture of work.”

To say this isn’t the case is an understatement. What is a “good” job, financially speaking? One which pays $50,000 per year? $40,000? $30,000? The latter figure, which represents take-home pay of less than $2000 per month, and which is only twice the minimum wage (which itself has declined sharply in real terms since the 1960s), is an extremely generous definition of what constitutes a decent-paying job.

But let’s use it anyway, to determine how many Americans of working age have such jobs. If we make a couple more unrealistically optimistic assumptions — that nobody under 18 or over 69 is working, and that no one has more than one job — the answer is: three out of 10.

Nearly 70 percent of American working-age adults do not have jobs that pay at least $30,000 per year, because there are only three such jobs for every 10 American adults between the ages of 18 and 69. In other words, the vast majority of working age Americans cannot possibly acquire decent-paying jobs, even if one defines a decent-paying job extremely broadly, because there aren’t nearly enough such jobs, not because people fail to embrace “the culture of work.”

This is why we need a dramatically higher minimum wage. As Jared Berstein (and the Mad Biologist) has noted, these increases will largely come from the pockets of owners.

It’s beyond time to do this.

Update: In trying to round up the underlying data (which is why I always link to the data source directly or append a data file), it appears that the less-than $30,000 set is sixty percent, not seventy percent of workers. Seventy-three percent of workers earn less than $50,000 per year. I’m trying to contact Campos to get the data source.

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