236,000 new jobs in February is great news; but many of those newly hired employees will be receiving lower pay and fewer benefits than they did in their last positions.
This is a classic good news – bad news story.
Adding more than 200,000 jobs in one month is enough to drive down the unemployment rate and contains the promise of more hiring in future months. Five long years since Bear Stearns collapsed in the early days of the financial crisis, it is good to have some optimism.
Unfortunately, these new jobs are unlikely to alter the frightening slide in the standard of living of the average American. A 2012 study by the National Employment Law Project found that about 60% of the jobs lost during the economic downturn were mid-wage occupations such as billing clerks and electricians. In contrast, more than half of the new jobs (58%) created since the recovery are what the study classifies as low-wage positions such as retail clerks, food preparers, and home care aides.
This lop-sided job growth, along with high unemployment and employers refusing to offer significant wage increases, have combined to pole axe family incomes. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that between 2007 and 2011, the median U.S. household income, “adjusted for inflation,” fell 8% from $54,489 to $50,054. That drop means that people are struggling to pay growing food costs, the soaring cost of college, and the steady increase in health care premiums and deductions.
We need more than new jobs; we need a whole new re-definition of the financial relationship between employers and workers. For that to happen, we need a social movement that makes the declining standard of living for ordinary people the principal political issue in the United States.