Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Nearly 6M low-skill, low-wage factory workers get government aid; most prevalent in South

About 6 million low-skilled manufacturing workers—half of the U.S. total—are earning such low wages that they have to rely on government assistance to make ends meet, says a study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Nine of the 11 states with the highest participation rates in public programs are in the South, where manufacturing jobs typically pay lower and unions are less prevalent, Jim Tankersely reports for The Washington Post.

In 2013 the median manufacturing production wage was $15.66, with 25 percent of workers earning $11.91 or less, states the report. "In decades past, production workers employed in manufacturing earned wages significantly higher than the U.S. average, but by 2013 the typical manufacturing production worker made 7.7 percent below the median wage for all occupations. During the same time period productivity in the U.S. manufacturing sector increased at a rate one-third higher than in the private, non-farm economy overall." Manufacturing production wages now rank in the bottom half of all jobs in the U.S., says the National Employment Law Project.

Researchers found "that between 2009 and 2013 the federal government and the states spent $10.2 billion per year on public safety net programs for workers (and their families) who hold frontline manufacturing production jobs," says the study. Overall, 34 percent of families "of frontline manufacturing production workers are enrolled in one or more public safety net program" and 50 percent of families with workers hired through staffing agencies.
The majority of families are using public safety-net programs because of low wages, not because they aren't getting enough hours, the study found. "The families of 32 percent of all manufacturing production workers and 46 percent of those employed through staffing agencies who worked at least 35 hours a week and 45 weeks during the year were enrolled in one or more public safety net program."

The study's authors "say the simple explanation of what's happening is that many manufacturing jobs do not pay as much, per hour, as Americans expect them to," Tankersley writes. "Other statistics also suggest that manufacturing jobs are losing their advantage as a gateway to the middle class. In 1990, the average non-supervisory hourly wage in manufacturing was 6 percent higher than the average non-supervisory wage in the economy at large. Today, according to Labor Department statistics, the manufacturing wage is 5 percent lower on average than the economy at large."

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