NELP’s prior labor market analyses showed that employment growth during the recovery has been concentrated in lower-wage industries and occupations. Prompted by newly released Occupational Employment Statistics data, our researchers took a fresh look at wages in the occupations projected to grow the most through 2022 to see if low pay might still predominate.
We found that the 10 occupations projected to grow the most by 2022 will account for nearly 1 in 4 net new jobs (that’s 3.8 million out of approximately 15.6 million net new jobs, or 24.6 percent).
Five of the 10 highest-growth occupations pay median hourly wages below $12. These include personal care aides, retail salespeople, home health aides, food prep and serving workers (including fast food), and janitors and cleaners. A sixth occupation, nursing assistants, just barely made it over the threshold, at $12.07. (See table.) Together, these six low-wage occupations will account for more than two million net new jobs.
Congressional Democrats are reportedly poised to introduce legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $12. Our analysis finds that a $12 minimum wage today would boost the pay of an estimated 9.1 million workers in the 10 occupations growing the most (these are workers who currently earn hourly wages of less than $12).[i]
We also found that women and African-American and Latino workers are disproportionately represented in these 10 high-growth occupations, based on an analysis of Current Population Survey data covering the last three calendar years:
- While women make up 47 percent of all workers employed across the occupational distribution, they make up approximately 66 percent of workers in the 10 highest-growth occupations—and more than 80 percent of workers employed as personal care aides, registered nurses, home health aides and nursing assistants, and secretaries and administrative assistants.[ii]
- African-American and Latino workers make up 27 percent of workers employed across the occupational distribution, but approximately 33 percent of workers employed in the 10 highest-growth jobs.
- African-American and Latino women workers make up 13 percent of workers employed across the occupational distribution, but approximately 20 percent of workers employed in the 10 highest-growth jobs—and approximately 36 percent of workers employed as personal care aides, and approximately 44 percent of workers employed as home health aides or nursing assistants.
Looking at all occupations, more than 1 in 4 net new jobs between 2012 and 2022 will be in occupations paying median hourly wages below $12 an hour (i.e., 4.4 million out of 15.6 million net new jobs, or 28%).
Our analysis confirms that low-wage occupations will continue to play an outsized role in job growth for the foreseeable future. Millions of Americans will spend their careers in these jobs. If we’re serious about reducing income inequality and creating a fairer economy that rewards work, we need policies that help transform these low-wage jobs into higher-quality, better-paying jobs that can actually support families. Raising the minimum wage is the right starting point, and we can build from there.
[i] This is a conservative estimate for several reasons. First, this estimate does not include workers making slightly above the new minimum who would also get raises, as a result of what labor economists refer to as “spillover effects”. In addition, the OES only reports wage levels at the following percentiles: 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th. In order to estimate the minimum number of workers in each occupation, we identified the first reported percentile at which wages were below $12 per hour. Note that the wage measure in the OES survey includes tips and commission, but excludes overtime.
[ii] Certain occupations reported in the OES cannot be matched exactly with occupations reported in the CPS, so the following adjustments were made: demographic information for Home Health Aides, Psychiatric Aides, Nursing Assistants, and Orderlies (31-1010) was used as a proxy for Home Health Aides (31-1011) and Nursing Assistants (31-1014). Demographic information for all Secretaries and Administrative Assistants (43-6010) was used as a proxy for the smaller occupational group, Secretaries and Administrative, except legal, medical and executive (43-6014).