However, middle-wage jobs remain below pre-recession levels
The labor market’s ongoing recovery—often described as steady, if unspectacular—still has its share of skeptics who contend that too many of the new jobs fall into the low-paying, low-skill category. But several recent reports provide some evidence that the job market is getting much healthier overall.
Since 2010, the largest segment of employment growth has been in the category of “good jobs,” as termed by a new study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. These so-called good jobs pay more than $53,000 a year, tend to be full time, and provide health insurance and retirement plans, according to the center’s study.
The economy has added 6.6 million new jobs since 2010, 2.9 million of which were labeled as good jobs, in the study, which is titled Good Jobs Are Back: College Graduates Are First in Line. Another 1.9 million middle-wage jobs have been created since 2010, as well as 1.8 million low-wage jobs. And as the report’s title suggests, it pays to go to college: Of the 2.9 million good jobs, 2.8 million have gone to holders of four-year degrees.
“This has been a weak recovery, but the American job machine is working again for college graduates,” said Anthony Carnevale, lead author of the Georgetown report.
The bulk of good jobs added during the recent recovery were managerial positions (nearly 1.8 million); science/technology/engineering/mathematics, or STEM, positions (880,000 jobs); and health care professional occupations (445,000), the report said.
Growth for middle-wage jobs, which pay between $32,000 and $53,000, was most often tied to blue-collar positions (860,000 jobs), such as truck drivers, welders and auto mechanics, according to the report. The majority of low-wage jobs (nearly 1.1 million) fell into the food services, personal services, and sales and office support occupation categories. These positions pay less than $32,000.
The report did confirm one troubling trend in the labor market, and that is the gradual decline of middle-class employment. Both the good jobs and the low-wage jobs have recovered all of the jobs that were lost in those categories during the Great Recession. Middle-wage jobs, however, remain 900,000 below their pre-recession level, the report said.
Meanwhile, the Society for Human Resource Management’s Leading Indicators of National Employment report—a monthly survey that tracks several labor market trends—has revealed gradual improvement in pay for new hires over the past several months. In August 2015, a net of 16.7 percent of manufacturers and 19.8 percent of service-sector companies increased new-hire compensation. Those totals represented four-year highs for the month of August; that was the ninth straight month that a four-year high was reached in services, and that milestone was also reached in 13 out of the past 14 months in manufacturing.
Finally, a recent article from TheStreet.com website indicates that payroll taxes are providing some much-needed support for government coffers, as well. In an analysis of U.S. Treasury tax-withholding receipts, writer Simon Constable said that for the first seven months of 2015, payroll tax receipts have grown at an average annual rate of about 5.25 percent.
This is the result of about 2 percent growth in payroll jobs, 2 percent growth in wages and an increase in the number of hours individuals worked from the previous year, said Constable, a former Wall Street advisor and co-author of The WSJ Guide to the 50 Economic Indicators that Really Matter (Harper Business, 2011).
Another way to look at the data, Constable said, is if no jobs were created, no additional hours were worked and the tax code didn’t change, then growth in withholding receipts would be closer to 2 percent. Instead, it is now close to three times that level.
“Is that superb? No, it isn’t,” Constable wrote. “More growth in wages would be better, as would more new jobs. But still, it’s a steady climb that will slowly benefit the economy.”
Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM.