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2021-07-03 — nytimes.com

In recent decades, a declining share of the country's income and its productivity gains has gone to workers. And for adults without a four-year college degree, the options are especially bleak. From 1974 to 2018, for example, real wages for men with only a high school diploma declined by 7 percent. For those without that diploma, wages fell by 18 percent.

For most of the last 40 years, less than full employment has tended to give employers the advantage. As it becomes harder to find qualified candidates, though, employers are often slow to adjust expectations.

Among job seekers interviewed at job fairs and employment agencies in the St. Louis area the week after the benefit cutoff, higher pay and better conditions were cited as their primary motivations. Of 40 people interviewed, only one -- a longtime manager who had recently been laid off -- had been receiving unemployment benefits. (The maximum weekly benefit in Missouri is $320.)

In St. Louis, the Element Hotel held a job fair to hire servers, bartenders and front-desk receptionists. Housekeepers were especially in demand. Janessa Corpuz, the general manager, had come in on a Sunday with her teenage daughter to do laundry because of the shortage.

The hotel, which is on a major bus line, raised its starting wage to $13.50 an hour, the second increase in two months. It also offers benefits and a $50-a-month transportation allowance. The number of applicants shot up -- to 40 from a handful the previous month -- after the second wage increase.

...

Justin Johnson, too, already had a job when he showed up at an Express Employment Professionals office. He was working at a pet feed company, earning $14 an hour to shovel piles of mud or oats. But that week temperatures topped 90 degrees every day and were heading past 100.

"The supervisor pushed people too hard," Mr. Johnson said. He had to bring his own water, and if it was a slow day, he got sent home early, without pay for the lost hours.

He accepted an offer to begin work the next day at a bottle packaging plant, earning $16.50.

Amy Barber Terschluse, the owner of three Express franchises in St. Louis, handles mostly manufacturing, distribution and administrative jobs. Wages, hours and a short commute are what matter most to job seekers, she said, and few would work for less than $14 an hour.

...

In St. Louis, a single person needs to earn $14 an hour to cover basic expenses at a minimum standard, according to M.I.T.'s living-wage calculator. Add a child, and the needed wage rises just above $30. Two adults working with two children would each have to earn roughly $21 an hour.

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