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New Jobs, Same Old Wages

New Jobs, Same Old Wages

When you hear talk about the economic recovery these days, the focus is rightly on job creation. It makes sense—throughout most of our history, growth in employment has corresponded with growth in income, which results in more people moving out of poverty. But that story is changing in most places in the U.S. While the recovery may be in full swing in terms of creating new jobs, wages remain stagnant and the vast majority of jobs that have been created since the recession don’t pay enough to support a family. And perhaps even more disturbing, that trend is forecasted to continue.

Let’s take a look at the city of Greenville, South Carolina, one of the communities profiled in our new State of the South report. By 2023, the Greenville economy is expected to create nearly 37,000 new jobs. However, more than 57 percent of those are not projected to pay a living wage. For Greenville, we define the living wage as $16.77 per hour—what is necessary to sustain a family unit consisting of one adult and one child.

In Greenville, as in other communities, there is a direct correlation between level of educational attainment and compensation. In Greenville, 92 percent of current jobs that pay less than a living wage are typically lower-skill occupations that require a high school diploma, its equivalent, or less. 

Percent of Jobs Paying Less than a Living Wage by Entry-Level Education

Source: 2014.2 – QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees, Self-Employed, and Extended Proprietors, and the Living Wage Project

However, higher levels of educational attainment do not always correlate to finding a good job—take the health science field, for instance. In Greenville, as in many areas of the country, health-care workers are in high demand. Within Greenville’s biotech and health-care cluster, 60 percent of the jobs are in occupations that require some level of postsecondary credential. Even with a postsecondary credential, however, there are several health-related careers that do not offer a living wage. The table below shows that four of the top-10 jobs in the health-science field that require some postsecondary credential pay less than a living wage.

Top-10 Health Science Careers Paying Less than a Living Wage

Source: 2014.2 – QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees, Self-Employed, and Extended Proprietors, and the Living Wage Project

In total, more than 49 percent of the jobs in this sector have median earnings less than the living wage for Greenville County.

Developing strategies that create better paying jobs in growth sectors like biotech and health care needs to be a priority for communities that want to move more people out of poverty and into careers that have real prospects for advancement.

For a more in-depth look at Greenville, S.C., check out the community profile in the 2014 edition of State of the South, "Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the Next Generation."