Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay
January 13, 2020 7:22 AM   Subscribe

 
I'm disappointed that they didn't provide a gender breakdown because this sounds like pink collar employment.
posted by Selena777 at 7:29 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Link to full report
"Mid/High wage workers": Male 55.8%
"Low wage workers": Male 46.3%
posted by gwint at 7:34 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


Correction, page 9 of the Brookings study states that the low wage workforce is more female than male - 54%/46%, but the overrepresentation is only 6% higher than general workforce participation by women.
posted by Selena777 at 7:35 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I appreciate that the article actually spells out why "just get more education and better yourself if you want to earn more" is not a solution. It's not usually (though sometimes!) a problem at Metafilter, but there's always the guy who makes that comment on Facebook or wherever and I'm always astonished at his short-sightedness. Sigh.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:01 AM on January 13 [23 favorites]


Wow, wasn’t expecting that to be the headline at the the link. Refreshingly straightforward.
posted by q*ben at 8:14 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I appreciate that the article actually spells out why "just get more education and better yourself if you want to earn more" is not a solution. It's not usually (though sometimes!) a problem at Metafilter, but there's always the guy who makes that comment on Facebook or wherever and I'm always astonished at his short-sightedness. Sigh.

I have a lot of acquaintances who are nerd techie types, and there is a lot of libertarian mindset among that crowd. They often feel they earned it all themselves by "getting an education" and don't recognize that they come from middle/upper middle class backgrounds where there was actually a computer in the home for them to play with and get tech savvy on.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:27 AM on January 13 [28 favorites]


"Where I come from, we call that slavery."

"Ooh, I like her."
posted by panglos at 8:32 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I've been through 3 "careers" in my time. First one was the Electronics Technician boom of (mumble-mumble too long ago). That one was wiped out by a combination of automating a lot of that and the Manufacturing moving overseas. Went back to school and got an Electrical Engineering degree (among others). Just in time to wave bye-bye for most of the Manufacturing left in the Country. Found a job at a Semiconductor plant. Those were slower to move overseas. Finally happened, or at least the layoff was certified as a "Trade Adjustment...blah blah". So that opened some funds where I went back to school again and did a Software Engineering degree.

No, education will not solve this. It does give you better odds among the ones left but no. And no, I didn't come from middle/upper-middle class. Considerably lower than that. But at that time there was still Education programs available for low-income. And Companies actually had Tuition Reimbursement as a fairly common benefit.
posted by aleph at 8:33 AM on January 13 [14 favorites]


The quote that spells out why getting people better jobs isn't the solution:
However, imagine that everyone without a college degree suddenly earned one. The jobs that pay low wages would not disappear. Hospitals would still need nursing assistants, hotels would need housekeepers, day care centers would need child care workers, and so on.
This is always my response. Someone's got to mop the damn floor and clean the toilets; robots aren't going to take over those jobs in my lifetime so we really should be paying people a living wage to do that.
posted by octothorpe at 8:35 AM on January 13 [65 favorites]


backgrounds where there was actually a computer in the home

Yeah, definitely confirmed from my POV.

...but, to be more specific, many of the otherwise-decent tech guys I know will admit that yes they got started because they liked dinking around with the family computer -- but they always assume that "everybody" had a computer. Like, obviously the computer was there, why didn't YOU dink around with YOURS?

Such a quick pivot to blaming.
posted by aramaic at 8:42 AM on January 13 [15 favorites]


However, imagine that everyone without a college degree suddenly earned one. The jobs that pay low wages would not disappear. Hospitals would still need nursing assistants, hotels would need housekeepers, day care centers would need child care workers, and so on.

Been saying this forever. People in low-wage jobs are blamed for their status and low wages despite these jobs being a societal necessity that no one can rely without. It's the most abusive system I've ever seen, and I don't think most people understand it is designed to be that way. The issue being there is always someone who needs any wage, even a low one, to survive and can be cycled through these jobs when others leave. You're forced to either leave or just suffer abuse because it's your fault for not aiming for "more" than being, IDK, a pivotal cog in the machine.

I seriously wouldn't care if someone who worked at a retail store earned 15-20 dollars an hour to scan and bag my items or help me find an item, or run the deli where most of my meals reside because I'm too lazy to cook, stock shelves of things I need to exist. I probably wouldn't have been motivated to earn an advanced degree in tech to earn above a certain wage needed for thriving independence had I been able to do a NECESSARY YET LOW SKILL JOB that paid enough to live on alone while I worked toward something I was actually passionate about.

But, you know, WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THESE LOW WAGES???
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:49 AM on January 13 [28 favorites]


There's another point to consider about the assumption that everyone just needs more education. Not only would the service jobs still need to be done but what jobs would they take? Are high paying jobs going begging? Is no one applying for them? There won't suddenly be more of these jobs for the new workforce. Instead the increased competition for them will drive down the wages.
posted by Botanizer at 9:11 AM on January 13 [18 favorites]


I think about this just about every evening when NPR's blithely pro-capitalist "Marketplace" announces the employment numbers as if job growth is some kind of unvarnished positive.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:20 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]


But, you know, WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THESE LOW WAGES???

Well the answer of employers is to post help wanted ads at poverty wages and complain that they can't find people willing to work for poverty wages.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:41 AM on January 13 [19 favorites]


However, imagine that everyone without a college degree suddenly earned one.

Yeah, gee, if only literally everyone had advanced qualifications, that wouldn't do anything like make it so that you have to have a BA to get hired as a junior receptionist or anything, would it?
posted by Frowner at 9:47 AM on January 13 [30 favorites]


Only justice is just. People (usually affluent people) are always looking for hacks of one kind or another - "if everyone gets an advanced degree", "if everyone eats vegan", "if everyone saves 25% of their paycheck from the age of 16" - as if somehow we can get around actually fixing inequality, and what they mean is "if only we can get around actually taxing people more and providing redistributive programs".

It's just like if you go see a social worker at the county social services office - oh, they can give you a long, long list of all the programs which will give you "advice" or "resources", but they can't, eg, give you actual housing or actual money or actual health care, which are the things that would actually solve your problems. And that's because giving out actual problem-solving items would require turning the world upside down, and it's a million times better that people sicken and starve than than any affluent person lose a penny.
posted by Frowner at 9:51 AM on January 13 [65 favorites]


Sigh.. also, when low-wage employers pay even slightly better than the average, in my experience? they find so many passive aggressive ways to let you know how much you're costing them.

/bitterness
posted by captain afab at 9:56 AM on January 13 [11 favorites]


Would it be harder to legally discourage excessive credentialism among hiring managers as a type of discriminatory practice than it would be to provide free universal college? I'm not entirely sure why my party of choice went 100% in the "college will solve the problems of the working class" direction.
posted by Selena777 at 9:57 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Yes, aleph, same. Did the elec tech thing, than got into "Biomedics", because now, that's where the money is gonna be, then decided to go to school for an art degree when that became untenable, not because "That's where the money is." but because 4 years off of the treadmill would be a nice change. I got lucky and fell ass backwards into a job just as I was graduating that's allowed me to be at the very bottom rung of middle class. I get to eat and have a roof. Could not afford a car though.
posted by evilDoug at 10:05 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


If they can't manage to get "age discrimination" or "sex discrimination" or...

No, they are not going to "discourage excessive credentialism". All these do (well, mostly. there are some other smaller benefits) is specify what you can't "officially" discriminate against. Still happens as the many law suits (that mostly don't work) keep saying.
posted by aleph at 10:08 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


evilDoug: yeah, got lucky myself. Plenty didn't. :(
posted by aleph at 10:08 AM on January 13


One side of the mouth says “get an advanced degree if you don’t like (underpaid service job x), while the other side jokes about Philosophy PhDs working at coffee shops (which I’ve heard, to my face, while at work since adjuncting ALSO doesn’t pay so great...)

What they mean is “stop being poor in a way I know about and just serve me so I can feel like I deserve your labor”—not an economic or social analysis, merely a personal one. The attempts to square these inconsistencies will always fail because they’re different domains of desire.
posted by zinful at 10:25 AM on January 13 [12 favorites]


"The attempts to square these inconsistencies will..."

Not quite what I always understood from "I am large. I contain multitudes." but I suppose I should have.
posted by aleph at 10:33 AM on January 13


This is always my response. Someone's got to mop the damn floor and clean the toilets; robots aren't going to take over those jobs in my lifetime so we really should be paying people a living wage to do that.

I don't know how old you are, but this is a robot serving coffee at the San Jose airport this afternoon [more].

I think automation is coming for low wage work much faster than many of us anticipate.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:11 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]


I can guarantee you that at the end of every day, that robot and its enclosure are carefully cleaned and serviced by a human. This tracks with all the work being done to automate delivering food instead of preparing it. The goal is not to replace drudgery, it's to hide it.
posted by phooky at 11:20 AM on January 13 [44 favorites]


And functionally, this is the same kind of robot that has been in factories for decades-- repetitive tasks with no variation outside of what has been programmed, in a closed environment. I mean, this is so Silicon Valley-- haven't we had coffee vending machines for like, half a century?

I'm more concerned about how companies are convincing their customers to become their employees, i.e. "self-service" checkout at supermarkets.
posted by gwint at 11:25 AM on January 13 [11 favorites]


The words 'Low unemployment' are only as useful as the definition of the word employment. The agencies reporting it are free to re-define what it means any time they want. They're not headed by Saints.

'Employment' could now mean 4 hours a week. If you're not 'actively looking for work' any more ... could be dead, long-term sick, homeless ... you're no longer unemployed ... so you're effectively 'employed'.

Until such time as we clarify what 'employment' means in this context, the figures are meaningless. There was a time when it roughly meant 40-hour weeks, enough income to support your family. Once we drop that standard, anything goes. Then we've been moved to Latin America.
posted by Twang at 11:38 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


"... customers to become their employees, i.e. "self-service" checkout at supermarkets."

And the increasing "crowd sourcing" customer support to the nets. Don't know if they're bright enough just to screw up the customer support this way => force it to the nets. Or just the entropy of money (ie cheaper) working it that way. As long as they don't "officially" abandon customer support they can push it quite a ways off.
posted by aleph at 11:40 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


work being done to automate delivering food instead of preparing it.

The Creator burger people have, perhaps oddly, chosen to go in the opposite direction: their burgers are made entirely by machine (grind, slice, cook, the whole deal), while the customer-facing parts are handled by human staff.

(Which, I rather cynically suspect, has been done so that they can dodge as much labor unrest as possible ["hey, look at all our staff that we pay well!"], proving out the concept so they sell the machines to others, who then dispose of the front-end staffing and do everything by machine.)
posted by aramaic at 11:43 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I think automation is coming for low wage work much faster than many of us anticipate.

There's going to be some of that but robots are still amazingly dumb and there will be a subset of manual labor jobs that will resist automation for a very long time.
posted by octothorpe at 11:48 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


If only there were some way the government could subsidize work, perhaps by paying a wage subsidy to low-income workers. (I'm not saying the current $61 billion is sufficient, but we are already subsidizing wages, and it wouldn't be technically difficult to expand the program to whatever size policymakers wanted to.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:44 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


The largest employer on the planet is Wal-Mart. There is no upward mobility track at Wal-Mart. With a stranglehold on the job market, they can dictate the wage scale for entire classes of people. And congratulations on making it into the professional world with your degree and $75,000+ of debt.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:02 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


Well the answer of employers is to post help wanted ads at poverty wages and complain that they can't find people willing to work for poverty wages.

Not just employers, but their politicians. John McCain told a group of union members that the reason growers had to employ foreign migrant workers because Americans wouldn't do farm work "for $50 an hour." He seems to have thought that's what farm workers were being paid.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:17 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


There's going to be some of that but robots are still amazingly dumb and there were be a subset of manual labor jobs that will resist automation for a very long time.

Yeah, I expect employers will keep pushing hard to have as few human employees as conceivably possible, but even with stuff like that that robotic pizza maker that was making the social media rounds last week (and wasn't even doing a better or faster job than humans currently do), it's not actually fully automated yet, since it still takes humans to do stuff like give the pizza to the customer and to put a crust into the machine. It increasingly turns out that a lot of the promises of automation are BS and the systems still need to be backstopped by humans because there's so much that robots are incapable of doing, or at least of doing in a way that adds efficiency to the overall enterprise.

What will continue to grow exponentially are the number of humans injured or killed by robotic machinery and the frequency with which humans are threatened with the specter of robots taking their jobs as a way to get them to accept worse working conditions and/or lower pay.
posted by Copronymus at 3:08 PM on January 13


@Frowner: It's just like if you go see a social worker at the county social services office - oh, they can give you a long, long list of all the programs which will give you "advice" or "resources"

I'm currently trying to reenter the workforce, so I'm making use of some of the job-related social service programs. What I'm finding so far is that, in addition to the lack of help with material conditions you describe, their "advice" and "resources" boil down to "just keep doing what you've been doing (which hasn't been working) but do it harder."
posted by mattwan at 3:08 PM on January 13 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I would be delighted if someone could give me a comprehensive list of services and resources. Every agency I go to asks me some version of "Have you gone to X? You should have gotten on their waiting list months/years ago." Well, no, because I literally found out X exists just this second. Even "information clearinghouses" only tell you what you know to ask about. I think somebody's afraid if a comprehensive guide to services is published they'll be mobbed by the undeserving poors.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:19 PM on January 13 [7 favorites]


The largest employer on the planet is Wal-Mart. There is no upward mobility track at Wal-Mart. With a stranglehold on the job market, they can dictate the wage scale for entire classes of people.

Even if there is a path to advancement in these companies, the base of the pyramid is broad and there are simply few opportunities, and the gulf between the majority of the workers and the lucky few higher in the hierarchy keeps growing. There were headlines this week about Taco Bell starting to offer store managers salaries of $100k -- great for those managers, but only emphasizing the gap between them and the entry level employees who are earning way less than six figures.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:26 PM on January 13


The words 'Low unemployment' are only as useful as the definition of the word employment. The agencies reporting it are free to re-define what it means any time they want. They're not headed by Saints.

'Employment' could now mean 4 hours a week. If you're not 'actively looking for work' any more ... could be dead, long-term sick, homeless ... you're no longer unemployed ... so you're effectively 'employed'.


The gathered statistics on unemployment are not gathered by counting who has jobs and then subtracting that from the total working age population and the leftover are the "unemployed". Being counted as unemployed means you've been a part of a survey of a statistically meaningful sample of the population [Bureau of Labor Statistics explainer page] and you have reported that you are actively looking for a job. You can report that you're looking for a better job (employed and seeking) or that you've got a part time job and want full time (underemployed), but if you're not actively looking for work you're considered as having "left the work force".

One of the big things about the employment numbers that have been coming out after the collapse in 2008 is that a lot of people just left the work force when the economy was shedding jobs at the rate of 750K a month and have never come back. What is interesting about NOW is that we have employers truly not able to fill positions (all across the board) and people who left the work force are not returning to it as rapidly as they left it over a decade ago.
posted by hippybear at 5:46 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]


What is interesting about NOW is that we have employers truly not able to fill positions (all across the board)

That is a debatable statement. In fact, all the evidence suggests it is not true.
posted by JackFlash at 6:47 PM on January 13


The one thing they can't outsource someday is being a service person who is "here to help you," i.e. get abused and screamed at by the customers. I doubt it'd be as satisfying to scream curses at a robot or yell that you're going to get the robot fired.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:25 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


Make the cost of living — housing, health care, local transportation, child care — lower and low wages would go farther.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=pUFl

Is # hours / week @ median wage to pay the per-capita housing expense, showing real housing costs have doubled since the 60s.

Double wages & rents will double — but nobody gets this.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:17 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Slight derail.

gwint: haven't we had coffee vending machines for like, half a century?

Since 1947.

End derail.
posted by bryon at 9:47 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


At the Greyhound station in Boise, ID 20 years ago I encountered a french fry vending machine. A couple of minutes and you get a really hot fresh-cooked serving of pretty great fries. It was fun to try once. I don't know if I'd sub that for McD's but it's a robot that does it's job well. Apparently they've been around for over 35 years.

I'm oddly reminded of Horn And Hardart which replaced people with vending machines, but real people worked behind the scenes to keep them stocked.
posted by hippybear at 9:55 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Make the cost of living — housing, health care, local transportation, child care — lower and low wages would go farther.

OK - let's make them government provisioned, since rents are otherwise apparently incapable of being checked.
posted by PMdixon at 10:43 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Speaking of 1947 and 44% of workers earning poverty wages, repeal Taft-Hartley.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:46 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]


Something that feels weird to me is the stratification between "haves" and "have nots" in my community.... and comparing that to other places around the world.

When I look at pictures of china and other asian countries, I see people jammed neck and neck into spaces. Usually I see this as an aspirational example of true community, living within our global means, or some other bullshit. I wonder if folks in those locations feel similar.

And I look out my window at my spacious lawn (I have a quarter acre). The boulevard I live on is 100 years old, and the houses on the other side are so far away I couldn't hit them with a baseball if I tried.

There are so many competing factors in play.

I'm unemployed. I'm seeking a job in human resources - helping business owners be more efficient at managing their employee base. I'm curious when the house of cards will come tumbling down - and when that happens, if there will be any use for me.
posted by rebent at 4:58 AM on January 14


Nothing will cure this; but the fiver in with the towels at the gym; the ten spot a person might slip behind the trash in the bathroom, the two dollar bill left in the tray stack at the fast food joint; ... no cure at all. The low wage worker with their two kids at the bus stop when you slip them a 50? Not going to change a damn thing and we all know it.

Might just feel good.
posted by Afghan Stan at 5:55 AM on January 14


the two dollar bill left in the tray stack at the fast food joint

wait hold on that's a weird thing to do. it might be awkward but i bet you could tip a fast-food employee if you tried.
posted by mammal at 9:24 PM on January 14


Not going to change a damn thing and we all know it.

Might change how they feel about the people around them. $50 is enough to allow the family to have a night of fun they otherwise couldn't do, provide a bit of joy. A little cash here and there (your examples are strange to me but maybe that's what people do there?) can provide sparkle and sprinkles in people's lives. There is literally nothing wrong with doing small kindnesses. You aren't aiming to change the entire course of someone's life; you just want to make them smile unexpectedly.

Might just feel good.

Feel good for both giver and receiver? Like, what is lost within that moment? Good feelings are good within the universe, and there is no moral argument to be made that a small amount given that is unexpected and provides a small bit of joy is a bad thing. Nobody giving a tip thinks they are changing a life.
posted by hippybear at 10:28 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


wait hold on that's a weird thing to do. it might be awkward but i bet you could tip a fast-food employee if you tried.

You seem to have assumed that didn't also happen. Kind of uncharitable, if you did.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:09 AM on January 15


Fleebnork wrote: “have a lot of acquaintances who are nerd techie types, and there is a lot of libertarian mindset among that crowd. They often feel they earned it all themselves by "getting an education"”

Working for my local Board of Elections at the election polls, I met a retiree who groused about her son working all manner of odd jobs, while she was a nurse at the local hospital for over 30 years. I’m sure there was a lot there that I didn’t know, but when she started in nursing, I think it was perfect timing. And it was also from that now long fine era of working for the same company until you retire. That all changed in the 90s and has been getting worse ever since.

So when I hear from people who benefited from the rise of the Internet and the personal computer speak as though they earned every advantage, I ask myself what effect might good timing had as well as social and economic benefits of class.
posted by xtian at 4:14 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


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