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Low-wage workers want better jobs not more jobs
September 3, 2004
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Washington, D.C. -- Corporate Voices for Working Families have released key findings from qualitative and quantitative research on America's workers who make less than $11 per hour and have a family income of $40,000 or less.  The research report, entitled Struggling to Make Ends Meet: Low-Wage Work in America, indicates there is a widespread concern over the worsening problem of low-wage work, and that the general voting public and low-wage workers believe it is critical that corporations and government work to improve the low-wage crisis -- particularly focusing on creating jobs that can support families and for employers to provide better benefits and job skills training.

Between 2002 and 2012, the Labor Department expects the economy to create more than 7.5 million new jobs, however almost 6 million of those new jobs will be low-wage jobs (those jobs that require limited education and provide minimal training).  There is agreement between the majority of the general voting public and low-wage workers themselves that the preferred solution is better jobs that pay higher wages and offer benefits.  There is an overall belief that the best antidote for a low-wage job is a good job.

"With the dramatic increase of low-wage jobs, Corporate Voices sought to hear clearly the voices of low-wage workers and how America sees them,” says Donna Klein, President and CEO of Corporate Voices. “The survey shows that the more Americans know about the conditions of the low-wage workers, the more they care about fixing the problems these low-wage workers face every day. Our mission is to make sure more Americans know about the important issues affecting working families and find solutions that help these employees be productive workers and caring family members.”

"This statistical information reveals there is a powerful call to action to the business community and our government to meet the needs of these working families who comprise such a large and growing proportion of the American workforce," says Klein.  "There is also a legitimate need to educate the business community and share 'best practices' more widely to encourage all employers -- large and small -- to invest in programs and policies that meet the needs of low-wage workers.  There is also a clear need for bi-partisan Congressional action to address the problems low-wage working families face."

The survey, conducted by Hart Research and Wirthlin Worldwide and supported by the Ford and Annie E. Casey Foundations, covers three topic areas: 1) problem of low-wage work in today's American economy; 2) the financial conditions and concerns of low-wage workers and their families; and 3) possible policy solutions.  The main survey sample consisted of 804 registered voters nationwide.  The same survey was also conducted among a national sample of 583 low-wage workers, defined as employed adults age 18 to 64 who work at least 20 hours per week, make less than $11/hour and have a total annual household income below $40,000. In addition to the national survey, six focus groups were conducted with employers in small and medium enterprises and low-wage workers of diverse demographics.

Public concern over low-wage outlook:

  • 68 percent of the general voting public believes that most jobs being created in the U.S. economy are lower-paying jobs without benefits and by 62 percent to 21percent, the general voting public believes that low-wage/no-benefit jobs are a bigger problem than a shortage of jobs;
  • Six out of 10 voters think that the problem of low-wage work has gotten more serious in the past few years and 70 percent believe that conditions for low-wage workers are a very or fairly serious problem;
  • Overall, ‘swing voters’ express more concern than decided voters over the conditions for low-wage workers, and express greater conviction that more should be done;
  • 59 percent of the general voting public report that a worker needs an income of at least $40,000 to support a family of four;
  • While awareness of the growth in low-wage work is widespread, the survey reveals that the general voting public's knowledge about the low-wage workforce is limited.  Only 41 percent know that low-wage workers are over the age of thirty and just 34 percent are aware that most low-wage workers are white, rather than black or Hispanic;
  • Conditions for low-wage workers: (Compared responses of low-wage workers to those of higher-wage workers, that is, those who earn $11 per hour or more,);
  • 71 percent of low-wage workers believe that improvements are needed in their job situation today;
  • Just 38 percent of low-wage workers receive health insurance from their employer (compared to 69 percent of higher-wage workers);
  • Only 47 percent of low-wage workers receive paid sick leave (compared to 75 percent of higher-wage workers) and 47 percent of low-wage workers are offered a  retirement plan (compared to 80 percent of higher-wage workers);
  • One of the most fundamental divides between low-wage workers and the general voting public has to do with the ability to save money for the future: 22 percent of low-wage workers report that they earn enough to put aside some money in savings, while 54 percent earn only enough to keep up with current bills and another 23 percent acknowledge not earning enough even to keep up with their bills;
  • Low-wage workers worry about the following: 1.) their incomes won't keep pace with the cost of living (66 percent worry often), 2. they will not have enough money for retirement (65 percent), 3. they will face health expenses they cannot afford (65 percent), and 4. that they will take on more debt than they can handle (60 percent);
  • 28 percent of low-wage workers rate their own economic and financial situation as excellent or good, while 60 percent of higher-wage workers feel they have an excellent or good financial situation.

Solutions: Addressing the problems of low-wage work:

  • 71 percent of the general voting public feels that improving conditions for low-wage workers and their families will also benefit the rest of society;
  • 49 percent of the general voting public believes that employers should play the      lead role in addressing the problems low-wage workers face, while 25 percent believe government should play the lead role;
  • Both groups are clearly looking for the companies that employ low-wage workers to step up to the plate and provide better wages and benefits.
  • Low-wage workers are especially eager to see the government impose new    requirements on employers regarding compensation and conditions for low-wage workers.  Low-wage workers express intense support for such policies as requiring employers to provide health insurance (66 percent strongly favor), requiring two weeks paid vacation (66 percent), raising the minimum wage (63 percent), and requiring employers to provide retirement benefits (62 percent).
  • The general voting public says it strongly or somewhat favors each of the following: providing tax incentives to firms that create good jobs in America (85 percent), requiring employers to provide and help pay for health insurance for their employees (84 percent), want the government to help working parents find and pay for quality child care (79 percent) and endorse the idea of government providing discounted health insurance to workers not covered on the job (78 percent).
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