Why are there so many bad jobs?

The answer is a desperate labor force, but overqualified US workers already know that. One proposed solution, though, doesn't inspire much hope.

By Jason Notte Sep 6, 2013 2:23PM
Man reading job listings (© Tetra Images, Tetra images, Getty Images)As Friday's payroll report for August makes painfully clear once again, it's beyond dispute that the glacial U.S. economic recovery has been a lousy time to look for a job.

The Center For Economic and Policy Research came up with a test to determine why that is and came up with the answer: Desperation. This is the part where much of the overqualified workforce slaps its collective forehead and wonders why that conclusion necessitated a test.

The U.S. has only one job available for every three people who apply. The economy has regained just 5.7 million of the 8.7 million jobs shed during the Great Recession, with 65% of those jobs of the low-wage variety -- despite the fact that nearly 60% of all jobs lost during the slump paid middle-income wages or better, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The most common job in America since the recession is in retail sales, where 4.3 million (greater than the population of Kentucky) make an average only $25,000 a year, well below the more than $45,000 national median wage. While college students are still far better off than their less educated peers, art school students and MBAs alike are being crushed by student debt. Deeply indebted doctorate recipients are seeking food stamps in increasing numbers. Roughly 284,000 college graduates are making minimum wage.

Apparently oblivious to all of that information, the folks at CEPR tried to determine whether the spate of bad jobs was a result of improving technology -- robots and computers muscling in on human turf -- or whether desperation is making people go after bad jobs they wouldn't consider otherwise.

In this view the bad jobs were always there, but most people had better alternatives so they didn't take them. What's changed from the period when we didn't see so many bad jobs is that we have a much weaker labor market. The weakness of the labor market is the key factor in this story.

We'll spare you the formula the CEPR used to reach this conclusion and, instead, skip to the group's conclusion and solutions. The gist? Tighten the labor market up a bit and boost wages:

In the weak labor market story the key is to boost demand. This can be done through government spending, reducing the trade deficit, or by redistributing work through work sharing. If the labor market tightens then people will be able to get better jobs. In fact, if the labor market tightens enough even the bad jobs will become better jobs. In a tight labor market employers will pay people much more to work in fast food restaurants or as retail clerks.

So there you have it. Calls for a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers and better working conditions and pay for Wal-Mart (WMT) employees all fit snuggly within this grand scheme. Root on that weak jobs report, U.S. workers. By this logic, your big payday is just a few layoffs away.

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Sep 6, 2013 3:57PM

No good jobs since 2007 stock market and housing crash. Only part time or low paying positions. Lost my house, wife, kids, family, self respect.....but I still have my dog snoopy.


My neighbor works for the state he has a 100k job, will get 90k per yr when he retires next yr at 46 with full health benefits for his whole family. He said he didn't do a days work working for state of NJ at UMDNJ, just showed up. Says he would come in late leave early, disappear the whole day. The state owes him 4yrs in back comp/sick days for his 25yrs. That's about a 375k pay out. This is what America has become. Max Legacy benefits for State, City, county workers and none for Co workers. your taxes at work.

Sep 6, 2013 2:59PM
" This can be done through government spending, reducing the trade deficit, or by redistributing work through work sharing." This is the new normal. Our children are toast!
Sep 6, 2013 3:48PM

We first blamed the illegals...that didn't work.  Then we blamed Bush, that didn't work.  Now we're blaming Obama....problem still here.  WE--I'm talking to you greedy bankers, homeowners that bought homes when you shouldn't, and the rest of THIS society that lived well beyond your means are to blame.  Shut your yapping and get ready to work the midnight shift and get out of your own mess.

Sep 6, 2013 3:37PM

The portion of the article where it stated


"The economy has regained just 5.7 million of the 8.7 million jobs shed during the Great Recession, with 65% of those jobs of the low wage variety  -- despite the fact that nearly 60% of all jobs lost during the slump paid middle-income wages or better, according to the .



is exactly why we will continue to decline. Employers now know that they can get away with hiring a person with 20 years of experience for nickles. If the experienced employee doesn't want to take such low pay then the employer will just hire a kid out of school with zero experience for those same nickles. It's win win for the employer and lose lose for the employee.


I'm still shocked to hear that the government is still trying to figure out where all the tax money went, when the answer is in the statement above. the $50,000 a year worker is now making $25,000 duuuuuuhhhhh. Go ahead Uncle Sam keep giving those middle management/skilled jobs to overseas companies and here in a few you'll figure it out when there are no taxes to pay your salary and uber bennies.

Sep 6, 2013 3:07PM
I blame the American consumer and the GOV.   Save a penny by buying foreign made, then bitch about jobs?   The GOV does not even understand free trade agreements and the burden that American business have versus their foreign competitors.  Problem is that they simply do not care!
Sep 6, 2013 3:49PM

NAFTA. Our jobs were shipped over seas for cheap labor and little regulations. No long term thinking.\

There are many people who need jobs that didn't require a college degree. College graduates now compete with people over seas.

  Make it here and sell it here. Company's that went over seas need to make and sell there to help those peoples lives.

 The current way of doing things just doesn't work, unless Americans well work for slave wages, which wont pay the bills.

Free trade just isn't that free.

Sep 6, 2013 4:17PM
I stopped looking for a job over 3 years ago.  At nearly 60 years of age, fortunately I have savings, an ira I haven't even had to touch, and my wife is still working and draws a pension.  It bothered me for awhile, you know a man has some pride, but now I just consider myself retired.  I also am a veteran so I have that healthcare option in lieu of Obamacare on the exchanges if I need it(no worry about fines for noncompliance).  I really don't care what field you are in or what skills you have, nobody is indispensable in certain times.  Contrary to what one poster says, yes, even auditors in some locales are hurting, or only work part-time.  Never lose hope, but also don't put up a false façade.
Sep 6, 2013 4:19PM

Now it's the fault of 'overqualified' US workers?  Really?  Any other article says American workers are lazy, unqualified and stupid.  Which really sounds like the description of congress and senate for sitting on their arses for three decades while allowing companies to ship good jobs to countries without environmental or labor regulations, who aren't on a level playing field, and for passing NAFTA and CAFTA. 

Sep 6, 2013 3:10PM
The shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy has created a skills gap for many workers. Workers previously making 40-50k with benefits at their previous jobs are now making 20-30k at their new jobs for which they are overqualified. This skills gap results in a net loss of potential productivity as older workers with more experience are taking jobs previously held for young and unskilled workers. This means it is harder for younger people to get the necessary experience to get better, higher paying, skilled work. No one solution can fix this issue and No one person is responsible for this macro economic issue. It will require the cooperation of many people with many different ideas and ideologies to try to fix or at least minimize this problem. For people like myself who do have skills and work in service related industries (Auditing) we will never have a problem finding jobs that match our skills at decent pay.
Sep 6, 2013 3:56PM
Nonsense. The only way to "tighten" the labor market is to have a thriving economy. In a thriving economy people and business take risk, some of these endeavors will be successful and some will not, the market will decide. Government can only distort the market, where the winners are few and the losers' many. 
Sep 6, 2013 3:19PM
Can't blame Bush--Barry.  This is on you.
Sep 6, 2013 3:38PM

Yet we are bringing in thousands of Jamacians and Porturecans to work in the Fla tourist industry, etc.?????????????? 

 While we have similarly qualified people staying home on various welfare & unemployment programs. 

Sep 6, 2013 2:40PM
bad jobs hell, just go to outsourced India and get a good one...................
Sep 6, 2013 4:20PM
I'm sorry you decided to spare us the "formula" the CEPR used to determine that engineers and other educated workers would be happy working fast food or retail if the could just be unionized and make $15.00 per hour (for 29 hours a week). Leftist propaganda is at least good for a laugh. 
Sep 6, 2013 3:45PM
Obamanomics.  mmm, mmm, mmm!  We just need to double down on big gubmint, and that will solve everything.
Sep 6, 2013 3:17PM
The best solution is through tax and trade reform. The best tax reform strategy for economic growth for all Americans would burn present USA business & corporate income tax codes & place a "fair tax" or "flat tax" (with a standard deduction of $5 Million) on ALL USA business & corporate sales/revenue/income/earnings including foreign after deducting compensation and benefits for American citizens' labor; except for CEO's and their immediate subordinates. Burn both the federal & state individual income tax codes & give each income receiving American citizen a $50000 standard deduction while keeping current dependent exemptions. Then tax the next $50000 at 2%, the next $50000 at 4%, the next $50000 at 6%, etc. until the federal & state budgets are balanced. All standard deductions & exemptions should be adjusted for inflation. Repeal all millionaires'
 individual & business/new development/construction tax incentives, credits, deductions and loopholes or pay a living wage. Collect an export tax on natural resources/commodities such as oil & grains. Additional tax reform and trade reform that will create good paying American jobs with good benefits for American citizens is to repeal all sales/consumption taxes & replace the lost revenue with an import tax/tariff on imported labor (India & the Philippines) & manufactured goods (Mexico & Communist China, North Korea & Vietnam). Burn the USA Free Trade Agreements because USA citizens are the world's #1 consumer/customer. Stop the USA's nation building because this world peace strategy is exporting USA wealth, jobs & increasing USA debt.This tax and trade reform will increase demand for 'made in America'. This strategic plan will cut government spending & increase tax revenues as well as raise personal incomes for the lower 99% of American citizens. 
Sep 6, 2013 5:26PM
Sep 6, 2013 4:52PM
This is what you get when you increase regulations, increase taxes, increase employee costs, trade agreement concerns, inflation due to the deficit, increase energy costs and crap on the job creators in the news every day.  We small business owners sit on the sidelines and say at least what I have is mine and it's NOT worth the risk with the uncertainties noted above.  I exclude the market demand since we have always had that uncertainty.  I am hoping the next 3 years pass quickly.
Sep 6, 2013 4:24PM
Corporations have cut expenses to remain profitable in the short term.  I don't blame them with all of the economic uncertainty in the market right now, and we just added Syria to that equation the past few days.  This type of article is what you get when that happens, it sucks. I can't blame those who want to stay on unemployment either, why would you go to work for min wage if you have to pay your babysitter more than the difference of going to work vs. unemployment check, plus you have the added benefit of raising your kids instead of somebody else.

I do blame this congress for being idiots and inhibiting decisions so we have to fall on a sword like the sequester,  the austerity movement was proven a hoax by somebody who knew how to look at an excel spread sheet properly.  People like Paul Ryan focus their budget analysis on false assumptions and skewed/falsified data. 

If Pro is the opposite of Con, then the opposite of Progress is Congress.

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