|Low-Wage Work: Background|
For generations, Americans shared a tacit understanding that if you worked hard, a livable income and basic securities would be yours. That promise has been broken. Today, more than 30 million men and women in this country work in jobs that pay poverty wages and provide few if any benefits.
A large body of research amassed over the past decade clearly demonstrates that the structural changes to the U.S. economy over the past 20 years resulting from globalization, industry deregulation and the computerization of the workforce have led to harsh working conditions, reduced benefits, and fewer opportunities for advancement for workers in low-wage jobs.
Workers in low-wage jobs are the least likely to be provided health care coverage for themselves and their families; they cannot afford the premiums on their own, so most do without. Sick pay, family leave and retirement benefits are virtually nonexistent. Their jobs leave these workers little flexibility to care for their children, quality childcare during "regular" business hours is unaffordable for most, and finding childcare during their many nighttime shifts is an even greater challenge.
Low-wage workplaces are often physically damaging and emotionally degrading. High injury rates and unsafe conditions plague these locations, compounding the risks for workers without health insurance. With few opportunities for training or advancement, most are locked into these low-wage jobs. That these condititions continue to erode Americans' most cherished values of fairness, personal responsibility, hard work and perserverance, and sends the message that work does not pay. Failure to address this issue not only hurts these workers' families, it erodes the functioning of American's communities, its economy and our very notion of what democracy can achieve.
The Fairness Initiative on Low-Wage Work has prepared a special 5-minute podcast on the NCCP report featuring its author, Sarah Fass. The podcast can be accessed at www.lowwagework.org.