(MyBudget360) The American economy has slowly compressed the middle class into a minority group. When the manufacturing sector slowly eroded away, waiting in the wings to replace those higher paying jobs was low wage service sector employment. Now as it turns out the top 10 largest occupations in the United States are occupied by low wage service sector fields. Contrast this to the last generation where many of the top largest occupations paid a wage that was enough to propel someone into the middle class. Out of the top 10 occupations, there is only one job that pays a higher wage and this requires a college degree and specialized training.
Low wage America
Why do most people feel like they are struggling economically? One obvious reason is that most people are working in lower paying jobs. That is simply a reality. Every time we pull up nationwide income data or median figures there is undoubtedly some that think it is way too low. Yet this information is pulled from government sources like Social Security information, tax data, and the BLS.
Let us look at the top 10 occupations that employ Americans:
The top two fields are retail salesperson and cashiers. Over 8 million Americans work in these two fields alone. Which should be scary given the growing number of self-checkout stands we are seeing and more people shopping online. Next we have food preparation and serving workers. Combine these top three fields and we are now at 11 million American workers. Next are office clerks. The top four occupations in the US make up 14 million jobs and most of these jobs pay around $20,000. Office clerks get a little bit more at $31,000 presumably because they are working a full work week (other positions may be part-time).
The only job on this entire list that has a livable wage is for registered nurses. With an older population of baby boomers, we are needing lots of nurses. In total there are 2.7 million registered nurses in the US. That number will grow with the health issues baby boomers will face with older age.
The final four are made up by waiters and waitresses, laborers and movers, secretaries/admin assistants, and janitors and cleaners. In total 28.9 million people work in these 10 occupations. It should tell you something about our economy that most people are working in low wage jobs (those that are able to get work).
Is this a good or bad thing? I know some will argue that the market will dictate wages and that is the way things will be. But is this truly a market? The market was dictating that many banks fail just a few years ago yet the government stepped in to help the bankers out. The market wanted to wash out the excesses in housing but the government stepped in here too. Apparently having a low wage that will keep you on the low paycheck diet is perfectly fine (with no benefits either).
Many of these service sector jobs are also part-time in nature thus allowing the avoidance of paying for benefits. Here are some interesting stats:
-In 1952, just four percent of people worked part-time. Today it one in four.
-On average, workers did 48 hour work weeks in 1952. Today it is 37 hours.
This goes hand and hand with our growing low wage sectors and the decrease in manufacturing base. What does this say for the future of the middle class?