Today’s blog post was written by respected colleague Thomas Domer of Domer Law Offices in Milwaukee. Although the blog post was originally in reference to Wisconsin, as he writes, “the findings in Wisconsin mirror nationwide findings of the National Law Employment Project,” so I think they can be reasonably applied to Nebraska and Iowa. One thing that I found especially interesting in the article is that even when the quantity of jobs is increasing, the quality of pay for those jobs isn’t quite there yet. But it also turns out that employers may not have to pay the higher wages as people are still hoping to find jobs. As an example from the original Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is telling: an entire category went from “middle-wage” to “low-wage” because the hourly rate of pay was that much lower.
“By 2013 the occupation had added about 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, and stood at 55,520. Meanwhile, median pay had fallen to $12.16 an hour, so all 55,000 jobs — the 13,000 new ones and the 42,000 that were ‘middle-wage’ three years earlier — were classified as low-wage in 2013,” according to the Journal Sentinel article.
As we move into the holiday season and past the election where Nebraska voters resoundingly voted to raise the minimum wage over two years, I would challenge both employers and consumers to consider what their hourly wage would be and into what category they would fit within the information in this article. Most people in the middle and low-wage categories are very aware of where they land for a category. But it is something important to think about as wage inequality continues to be discussed: in addition to thinking about the minimum wage, what is an appropriate living wage for the place in which we live? And are we as consumers prepared to maybe pay a bit more for services and products if businesses provide that living wage to workers? On the other side of the coin, businesses should also be willing to sacrifice a small part of their profits to provide employees a living wage so people don’t have to work two or more low-wage jobs like the ones below, just to make ends meet. Because in the end, it is the whole of society that benefits.
Those of us representing injured workers have recognized a trend in recent years affirmed by a new study by University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Professor Mark Levine. His study indicates jobs in low wage occupations have increased substantially since 2000, with that growth accelerating since 2010.
Levine’s study found that in 2000, low wage occupations accounted for about one quarter of Wisconsin’s jobs with middle wage occupations accounting for more than half. But by 2013, low wage occupations made up over 30% of the State’s employment.
The study indicated low wage occupations with a median wage of $12.50 per hour or less, middle wage occupations with a median of $12.50 to $25.00 per hour, and high wage occupations with a median above $25.00 per hour. Jobs in the high wage occupations increased substantially through 2007, then fell during the recession and recovery.
The findings in Wisconsin mirror nationwide findings of the National Law Employment Project, an advocacy group for low wage workers and the unemployed. Commentators also noted the findings in the Wisconsin study confirm findings for the U. S. national economy, which indicates job growth has been mostly in low skill, low wage areas.
Those of us that practice in the worker’s compensation arena have noted the number of workers earning maximum wages in Wisconsin (over $1,320 weekly) are much more rare since the Great Recession. Worker’s compensation benefits for Loss of Earning Capacity, for example, is obviously much greater for a maximum earnings worker than for a worker earning $8.00 or $9.00 per hour. The loss of high paying manufacturing jobs that used to exist in Milwaukee and throughout the Midwest Rust Belt has had a substantial impact on worker’s compensation claims and recoveries.