Documents and analyzes the dynamics of the low-wage labor market and the role of work supports in helping low-wage workers in the early 2000s.

"Over the course of the 1990s, enormous strides were made in increasing work among groups that had traditionally low labor force participation, such as single mothers and welfare recipients. Many of these workers have joined the low-wage labor market, and some continue to rely on government benefits, such as food stamps, to make ends meet. These workers compete for jobs in the low-wage labor market with other groups of low-wage workers—from those seeking their first job out of high-school to middle-aged and older workers trying to support their families. For all these low-wage workers, particularly those in low-income families, it is of great interest to policymakers to better understand the factors that help low-wage workers attain higher wages and become independent from public assistance programs or self-sufficient. These factors include personal and family characteristics of low-wage workers as well as public programs that support work, such as child care and transportation assistance. This study documents and analyzes the dynamics of the low-wage labor market and the role of work supports in helping low-wage workers in the early 2000s. We address these issues in four areas:

  • a profile of low-wage workers’ demographic and job characteristics;
  • low-wage workers’ wage progression;
  • low-wage workers’ progress toward self-sufficiency; and
  • the role of work supports in low-wage workers’ progress toward self-sufficiency" (p.ES-1). (Abstractor: Author)

Major Findings & Recommendations

"The results of this study provide evidence that low-wage workers can progress in terms of wages and the self-sufficiency of their families. However, while some families progress, many families do not. Progress tends to be more limited for low-wage workers who are single mothers and less-educated black men, as well as those in low-income families. Our analysis of movement from a low-wage to a higher-wage status suggests that workers who are most likely to progress are those who spend the most time working. The importance of sustained employment for advancement is of particular concern as unemployment and joblessness in 2009 rise to levels not seen in decades. Importantly, we find some evidence that government-provided work supports, in particular child care assistance, improve the self-sufficiency of low-wage unmarried mothers in low-income families. Given the methodological challenges, it is encouraging that our analysis provides some evidence that work supports can improve the well-being of low-income families. Currently, very few low-wage workers in low-income families receive government-provided work supports, and increasing the receipt of supports could improve the lives of these families" (p.ES-21). (Abstractor: Author)