July 28, 2021

Low-Wage Workers Now Have Options, Which Could Mean a Raise

Some of the more lasting changes brought about by the pandemic could work against low-wage workers. Restaurants, taxi fleets and hotels in big cities are likely to see less business as companies cut back on business travel and people working remotely cut back on downtown lunches and happy hours.

More job losses should be expected if fast food joints and other service businesses decide to replace their face-to-face workers with robots and software. Yet there are signs that the country’s low-wage labor force might be in for more lasting raises.

Even before the pandemic, wages of less-educated workers were rising at the fastest rate in over a decade, propelled by shrinking unemployment. And after the temporary expansion of unemployment insurance ends, with Covid-19 under control and children back at school, workers may be unwilling to accept the deals they accepted in the past.

Jed Kolko, chief economist at the job placement site Indeed, pointed to one bit of evidence: the increase in the reservation wage — the lowest wage that workers will accept to take a job.

According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average reservation wage is growing fastest for workers without a college degree, hitting $61,483 in March, 26 percent more than a year earlier. Aside from a dip at the start of the pandemic, it has been rising since November 2017.

“That suggests it is a deeper trend,” Mr. Kolko noted. “It’s not just about the recovery.”

Other trends could support higher wages at the bottom. The aging of the population, notably, is shrinking the pool of able-bodied workers and increasing demand for care workers, who toil for low pay but are vital to support a growing cohort of older Americans.

“There was a work force crisis in the home care industry before Covid,” said Kevin Smith, chief executive of Best of Care in Quincy, Mass., and president of the state industry association. “Covid really laid that bare and exacerbated the crisis.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/20/business/economy/workers-wages-mobility.html

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