Producing More Better Paying, 'Quality' Jobs

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Researchers say it's not how many jobs are created, but how good the jobs are that's important. Some research suggests there are signs of growth in higher wage jobs. The problem is that wages aren't rising as quickly in lower paying industries like manufacturing.


Economists hold their breath each month when the Labor Department reports on how many new jobs have been created and not all jobs are created equal. After several years of adding mostly low-wage jobs, the US economy is now tilting towards better paying work. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington say it's not just how many new jobs the US creates that's important, but also the quality of those jobs, how much they pay and what kind of benefits they offer. Economist Elise Gould, who's with the liberal institute, says while the US slowly began regaining jobs after the 2001 recession, those gains were weighted towards low-wage industries, a trend that continued through 2004.

Ms. ELISE GOULD (Economist): My research suggests this trend is finally reversing, and in the first quarter of this year, job quality began returning in the sense that industries that traditionally offer higher-paying jobs were growing faster than industries that traditionally offer lower-paying jobs.

HORSLEY: Gould says it's generally a good thing when the ranks of professionals who are well-paid construction workers, for example, are growing faster than the ranks of Wal-Mart clerks.

Ms. GOULD: These are industries that pay higher-than-average wages and we're seeing more growth in these sectors. It's a good sign for the economy.

HORSLEY: But Gould cautions the signs are not all so encouraging. A typical low-paid retail clerk may not take much comfort from the growth of higher-wage jobs if the clerk cannot easily switch into one of those higher-paying industries.

Ms. GOULD: Job quality measure is just looking at shifts in between industries. What you want to see is average wages within industries increasing. Within retail trade, you want to see that average wage going up. You want to see manufacturing wages going up. You want to see information wages going up in all industries, not just to see that higher-wage jobs are being created in typically higher-wage industries. You want to see the average wage improving in the economy.

HORSLEY: Instead, Gould says real wages aren't even keeping pace with inflation. The average inflation-adjusted wage in May was $16.03 an hour, 10 cents an hour less than the average worker made in January. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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