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Growing Apart

A Political History of American Inequality

Colin Gordon, Author

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Low Wage Work: Past, Present, Future

The first graph builds on the work (and data) of Rebecca Thiess, The Future of Work: Trends and Challenges for Low-Wage Workers (EPI, April 2012), whose Table 2 (reworked here) breaks down each state’s workforce into shares based on multiples of the 2010 poverty level.  There are few surprises here, but toggling the “sort” buttons on each column does yield some interesting patterns.  The six states with over 20 percent of their workforces earning more than 3 times the poverty level are all strung along the eastern seaboard, from Virginia to Massachusetts.  Another six states (mostly in the upper midwest) count more two-thirds of their workforces in the 100 to 300 percent ranges, and most of these have less than 10 percent earning in the over 300 percent range. And six states have sub-poverty shares at or near a third of their workforces–all of these in the deep south.

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The second graph summarizes the Bureau of Labor Statistics' runs ongoing employment projections program, with the current version (released February 2012) estimating occupational openings (from growth and replacements) for 2010-2020. In the graphic below. Each dot represents an occupation. 2010 employment numbers run up the vertical axis; the projected openings for 2010-20 run along the horizontal access. The selection can be narrowed by the educational background needed for an entry-level job, or by the number of projected openings. The dots are colored according to the median annual wage for that occupation in 2010—red is lower than the economy-wide median wage of $33,800, green is higher. Move your mouse over the dot to see the occupation and its details.

The future, in a nutshell, is not bright. Only about a fifth of the projected openings even require a bachelor’s degree, and very nearly half require no more than a high-school diploma. About three-quarters of all projected openings pay less than the 2010 median wage. Fully one-third of projected job openings are in low-wage service occupations. Indeed, if you narrow the range (using the “openings” slider) to those jobs with 650,000 or more projected openings through 2020, you are left with twelve occupations—eleven of which pay sub-median wages, nine of which pay less than $25,000, and five of which pay less than $20,000.

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