Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Low-Wage Worker Characteristics: Implications for Children in Poverty

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Low-Wage Worker Characteristics: Implications for Children in Poverty

Article excerpt


The labor market in the United States is characterized by wage gaps between skilled and unskilled labor (also known as the dual, two-tiered or segmented labor market). (1) The extant two-tiered labor market fosters inequality and heightens poverty. In previous studies, central city core poverty in the 1980s initially was higher than the poverty rate of the metropolitan area or the nation as a whole (between 20 to 40 percent higher) regardless of economic growth in the metropolitan area; yet over time, as housing segregation mitigated, central city poverty has slowed and presently follows similar growth patterns of the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). (2)

Poverty, the byproduct of economic inequality, has three major components: (1) central city core vs. suburban regional location components, (2) labor market and labor force participation rate components; and (3) household demographics components. The elements of three components serve as the initial characteristics associated with low-wages. The rise in the one-parent family, changes in the labor force participation patterns of households, and the outsourcing of jobs to foreign counties have also contributed to an increase in poverty.

Madden (2000) noted differences between poverty rates in the central cities in comparison to the larger Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) between 1969 and 1989. She reported that poverty rates for MSAs in general are lower than the national average because of more affluent suburbs. She attributed the wage gap, i.e., the increasing gap between skilled and unskilled wages, deindustrialization, economic growth, regional location, and family demography as perpetrators of the urban--suburban wage gap, household income inequality and wage inequality. She noted that by improving the number and quality of jobs for lower wage workers there would be a decrease in poverty. An earlier paper by Madden and Daniels (1995) noted that policies that allow for exclusionary zoning, subsidize new construction or encourage fragmentation of metropolitan governments should be modified to further reduce poverty across jurisdictions. (3) In reviewing the Madden (2000), Madden and Daniels (1995) and Bernick (2005) research studies, the factors that have contributed to poverty in the United States can be enumerated as follows to answer the question:

What are some of the factors that have contributed to poverty in the United States?

1. Poverty Rate Thresholds: The level of income established by the Federal and/or State governments that help to determine public assistance eligibility.

2. Demographics: Proportion of female-headed households, number of wage-and-salary earners, multiple wage earners in a household, being African-American, being over 65, being an immigrant, being a farm worker, and number of persons per household.

3. Skill Composition: Median years of education (ages 25-64 years old), worker motivation, educational inequality or inaccessibility, English language proficiency, literacy skills, and limited knowledge of advanced processes. (4)

4. Labor Market Characteristics: Wage and salary inequality, employment-to-population ratio, years of work experience, and horizontal and vertical mobility.

5. Job Quality: Hours of classroom instruction or professional development, on-the-job training, working conditions, occupational hazards, workmanship techniques and practices.

6. Personal Traits: Being a long-term welfare recipient, former welfare recipient, or exconvict; mental and health disabilities; and drug addiction or juvenile delinquency.5

7. Other characteristics: Working in the central city, residing in the central city, population growth, per capita income, residing in low-income areas, and residential segregation inequality.

What are some of the characteristics associated with low-wage workers in the U. S.?

Previous research has yielded the following classifications of low-wage worker characteristics: age, education, skills, demographics and ethnicity (Toussaint-Comeau 2007). …

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