The Lower-Wage Workforce: Employer and Worker Perspectives
In 2013, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research published a major two-part study to better understand how lower-wage workers and those who employ them view such jobs and the opportunities for advancing the careers of lower-wage workers. Funding for the surveys was provided to the AP-NORC Center by the Joyce Foundation, the Hitachi Foundation, and NORC at the University of Chicago.
“During the Great Recession, about one-half of the U.S. jobs lost were middle-class positions, but only about two percent of the jobs gained in the recovery pay middle-class wages,” said Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center, noting that 70 percent of job growth is taking place in lower-wage industries.
Studies have shown that jobs that used to require a high school diploma are now being filled by better-trained workers, leaving lower-wage workers facing increased competition for jobs and fewer opportunities to advance through upward mobility.
“There is broad agreement that America needs a skilled workforce for 21st Century jobs,” said Tompson. “There is widespread disagreement about the policies and programs needed to build that workforce. These surveys of lower-wage workers and the employers of lower-wage workers bring important new information to that debate.”
Critical issues revealed by the surveys include:
- Getting ahead is seen as a personal responsibility by both workers and employers, with the government seen as holding only a small share of responsibility for helping workers advance.
- While employers are investing in training, only a slim majority are confident they can continue to provide such training and development opportunities.
- Employers say current employees have needed skills but did not when they were hired.
- Employers are offering training and benefits for lower-wage workers’ career advancement, but few offer benefits that lead to skills a worker can use to advance their career outside the company.
- There is evidence of widespread underutilization of training programs by lower-wage workers, and only a small minority of employers takes advantage of public funding opportunities to encourage training of lower-wage workers.
- Lower-wage workers are less likely to be satisfied in their job or to feel valued for the work they do compared to the general population of employed adults.
- Lower-wage workers perceive few opportunities for advancement.
- Pessimism about job opportunities is especially acute among white and younger lower-wage workers.
For the purposes of the survey, a lower-wage worker was defined as a person earning $35,000 or less, full-time equivalent, per year. The AP-NORC survey of lower-wage workers was conducted between August 1 and September 6, 2012, with 1,606 adults between the ages of 18-74 who were currently employed full or part time or on a temporary lay-off of six months or less; not self-employed; and earning $35,000 or less, full-time equivalent, per year. The employer survey was conducted with 1,487 employers between November 12, 2012, and January 31, 2013. A stratified sample was used to select businesses by size and industry.