A Job—But Not a Living

Just when we were feeling lousy because so many Americans remain out of work, we ran across this grim fact: Many of those who’ve been lucky enough to find a job in recent years are barely making any money.

“A majority of jobs lost during the downturn were in the middle range of wages,” the New York Times reported recently, while “a majority of those added during the recovery have been low paying.”

The Times cited a new report by the National Employment Law Project, which is as downbeat as its previous analyses (one of which we pointed to last April). Its findings, in a nutshell, are these: “Lower-wage occupations constituted 21% of recession losses, but 58% of recovery growth.” Meanwhile, “mid-wage occupations constituted 60% of recession losses, but only 22% of recovery growth.”

By lower-wage occupations, the report means jobs that pay $7.69 to $13.83 an hour. Given that the median price of a house in the United States is still more than $200,000, or anywhere from 7 to 12 times the annual income of a low-wage earner, millions of Americans might be called members of the working poor, even if they aren’t technically below the poverty line ($11,170 a year for a single person).

In his book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, PracticesPeter Drucker laid out five dimensions to work: the physiological dimension, the psychological dimension, the social dimension, the economic dimension and the power dimension. He also cautioned that anyone who viewed work through only one prism was guilty of a blinkered perspective. The clothes designer who earns $10 an hour does not necessarily feel the same about his work as does the meat packer who earns $10 an hour, even though their wages are identical.


Photo by: Aaron Escobar

Still, while money isn’t everything, it’s a lot. “Work is a living for the worker,” Drucker wrote. “It is the foundation of his economic existence.”

“As ‘living,’” Drucker added, “wage needs to be predictable, continuous, and adequate to the expenditures of a family, its aspirations, and its position in society and community.”

And that might take more than $8 an hour.

What do you think: When does a job become a “living”?