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Lowered wages may be new reality for former big earners

A recent St. Petersburg Times analysis and a new national report both utter the same dire findings. What little rebound there is on the employment front is happening, by and large, on the low end. Modest wages dominate what few new opportunities can be found out there.

So is this just a natural trend — low-wage jobs rebounding first — when economies recover? Or is this a more onerous signal that stronger demand for high-wage workers will be delayed or, worse, derailed by downsized expectations in the aftermath of the Great Recession?

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington reported in Sunday's paper that the small number of recent jobs created in Florida pay far less than the ones we've lost. His analysis found that the jobs that most disappeared during the recession paid $15,000 a year more on average than today's job openings in industries seeking to expand in the Sunshine State.

Now come similar findings on a nationwide scale in Wednesday's report by the National Employment Law Project. It states that while more than 1 million private-sector jobs were added to the U.S. economy during the past 12 months, they are disproportionately concentrated in mid- and lower-wage industries typically paying $13 or less an hour and ranging from temporary employment services and restaurants to retail and nursing.

That may elicit a big Duh to those on the front lines long looking for work. But it may startle many workers still clinging to their jobs who might be thinking of testing the job market. And it will surely sober up economic development leaders touting higher-wage industry clusters as Florida's strategy for raising living standards.

The NELP report goes further, pointing out the disconnect between the types of jobs lost in the recession and the types of jobs now becoming available:

• Lower-wage industries paying between $9.03 and $12.91 an hour constituted 23 percent of job loss, but fully 49 percent of recent growth.

• Mid-wage industries paying between $12.92 and $19.04 an hour constituted 36 percent of job loss, and 37 percent of recent growth.

• And higher-wage industries paying between $19.05 and $31.40 an hour constituted 40 percent of job loss, but only 14 percent of recent growth.

In many newspaper stories on jobs, a similar quote on low pay almost always seems to appear. The latest example is from unemployed Chris Markham of Tarpon Springs, who once made more than $100,000 working for TV shopping giant HSN. He told the Times that most jobs he hears about pay around $15 an hour. "You're not going to be able to pay your bills on that kind of salary," he said.

The bottom line? While Florida tries to climb out of its economic hole, most new jobs in the state pay less. That will produce a bigger economic ripple as the newly hired scale back living standards enjoyed before the downturn.

They rent smaller places, eat cheaper food, spend less on nonessentials and save aggressively to cover rising gasoline prices.

All of this raises a big question for new Florida Gov. Rick Scott. After all, he's long promised to create 700,000 Florida jobs in seven years.

If he delivers, will those jobs be mainly openings for dishwashers and store clerks?

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Lowered wages may be new reality for former big earners 02/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:13pm]

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