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Jobs You Can’t Live Off


Jobs You Can’t Live Off


dollar bills

While Wall Street aims for another record-breaking week, we would like to remind economic forecasters of the harsh reality facing the rest of the country.

Last month, we conducted focus groups among voters in Orlando, Florida and Columbus, Ohio. These voters were not talking about their investment portfolios.  Instead,  much of what we heard was about the quality of jobs available to middle-class and working people.  People believe that America is producing jobs “you can’t live off.” And they are right.

When we conduct focus groups on the economy, we almost always read the most recent jobs report to see and hear participants’ reactions. In the middle of the recession, when so many were unemployed, our focus group respondents would get angry and doubt that jobs had been created at all. When participants in our most recent groups heard the new jobs report, however, they were less angry than skeptically resigned. The discussion was totally focused on the quality of jobs. Participants tell us that they have had to replace “one career job” with two or more “disposable jobs.”  They understand that “you have to work twice as hard to make half as much as you used to.” And they ask, “how do these jobs stack up to the cost of living?”

As a result, sacrificing in big and small ways has become part of their routine. One woman in Columbus, Ohio told us, “After we pay our bills we make sure that our children eat but there’s times my husband and I can’t afford it and we eat peanut butter, potatoes, or rice. We make sure our children are eating 4 food groups but we can’t.”  She works full-time.  Her husband has two jobs.

Unsurprisingly, they say “I can’t afford to lose right now.”

Despite big gains on Wall Street, more people tell us that they have moved in with family members. Or that they get by with the help of neighbors, family, friends, and the PennySaver.  But when three jobs per household are not enough, it is difficult to say that “getting by” is an appropriate level of economic security for American families. And when three jobs per household are not enough, it is difficult to say that there are not deeper structural problems with the American economy.

You can read our new memo about “The New American Economy” here.  Or check out a colorful display of quotes from those groups here.

Photo by Jeffrey Simms Photography/Flickr



  1. mwpv11 July 17, 2013

    This is true. In Florida you can’t live off of many jobs that exist because the corporate employers don’t want to pay their workers a livable wage. The people in Florida have become America’s working poor. They can’t live with the job they have and they can’t live without it either because some money is better than none. I am amazed that this country allows this to happen, then we wonder why people turn to crime? Workers here have no rights to complain because they can get fired for any reason whatever. If this is the American way then you can keep it!

  2. aladythespian July 17, 2013

    I have worked more than one job most of my life. Not so that I can get ahead but so I can get by and it just isn’t fair. I am exhausted; all I do is work because there is no time (or energy) for anything else. The American dream is dead.

  3. Bill July 17, 2013

    This is what the GOP has been fighting for all these years. Why middle class people still support them is confusing, is there any hope when people can’t see what is happening when the GOP doesn’t even bother to hide what they are doing. Less taxes for the Rich and more taxes for everyone else. That’s why they want the flat tax and GOP states keep raising sale taxes so Big Business can get a break.

  4. howa4x July 17, 2013

    This is what the Koch bros and Walton’s want. They went to states run by republicans and busted the unions and passed right to work for less legislation. This is what Americans that voted for republicans got in return. Even the much touted Gov Christie vetoed the raise in minimum wage legislation because he wants to appeal to the tea party republican base. Any working person that votes republican is casting a vote against their families interest especially their children. Wake up!

  5. solotar July 17, 2013

    In light of the fact that middle class American wages are too low to live on, let’s be sure to give amnesty to millions of people who are in the country illegally. Hey, their kids, too! That would be great. If they can’t read or write, if they’ve been convicted of a couple of misdemeanors, all the better. I wish there was a bill that would make that happen. Oh, wait , there is! And it’s the top legislative priority of the President. Su-weet.

  6. Beaulieu6 July 18, 2013

    For 30 years 1976-06 I have worked physically hard as a factory worker with the Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Company in which I retired in 2006 with great pride and dignity, I have worked with my colleagues in contributing to our economy, in generating strong and healthy economic growth.
    As a former factory worker I strongly believe that they should raise the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour. I Believe strongly that it is the middle-class 98% percent that are thriving each and everyday that are building our economy.
    Ten months before I retired I felt that our economy was going to take a turn and as President Obama have said at the beginning it will get worst before it would get better, but the President did not gave up neither the middle-class.
    Now, our economy has rebound and it is getting better and stronger in which businesses have more confidence in our economy, as they are hiring again in which in the pass 48 months they have created over 6 million private sector jobs.
    Like President Obama, I am very optimistic and have great confidence in our economy in which I believe strongly that we are getting closer toward reaching a lasting prosperity in which I believe that together as a nation we will reach on January 1, 2015.
    President Obama have been an inspiration to me and the American people as everytime I hear the President speak I feel more inspired, I feel more optimistic and confident about our economy.
    If only the Republicans will broke their partisanship and work together with him and Democrats with more bipartisan support and pass legislation that need to be pass such as:
    1. A Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in giving the 11 million illegal immigrants the pathway to citizenship.
    2. A Universal Background Check in reducing gun violence in America in which 90% percent of the American people do support, as they should give Newton a yes vote that they deserve.
    3. A fair Farm bill.
    President Obama was re-elected on November 6, 2012 with a big majority in which we have is back as he is working hard, in which he is a strong leader with a strong leadership leading America forward.
    In 2014 we must give back Congress to Democrats and the gavel back to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi D-Florida, and keep the Senate Democrats.
    I will continue to stand with President Obama, Democrats, and the middle-class 98%Percent as I have their back.

  7. irishtap July 18, 2013

    Republicans salivate when working Americans struggle to maintain any semblance of dignity. They own a collective hatred for the common citizen having the ability to get ahead or simply create a little breathing room. “Those greedy teachers, firefighters and cops!” “Those dirty underhanded unions!” Well, we can all see the result of the shrinking union base within this country. Instead of one well paying job to house – feed and clothe a family, you now struggle to provide the very basics …with three or four. On visits to Chicago I’ve seen people wearing company uniform sleeping on sidewalks. This should be viewed as a national disgrace but, Republicans only see victory when working people grovel.

  8. jskdn July 18, 2013

    Improving the quality of the jobs available in a labor market requires making it so people can say no to jobs that don’t pay enough. Employers pay what they have to in order to get the employees they need as happened in the tight labor market of the later years of the Clinton administration. However liberals like you find here don’t care and are determined to import import more workers from other countries and to protect the existing illegal employment of illegal immigrants who they want for political demographics even if it creates the labor surpluses among the segment of the population that they are far removed from that keeps employers from having to pay enough to support a decent life. Then they put forth their faux concern for the lives of those working at the bottom of the food chain that they feast upon. Yet some people are taken in by the liberal elite.

    1. S.J. Jolly July 19, 2013

      How many of the illegal immigrants in this country are working jobs most Americans would want? I.e, meat packing, landscaping, cleaning offices, picking fruit and vegetables? Jobs that are hard, dirty, often dangerous, and with low pay and no benefits?

      1. jskdn July 20, 2013

        Not only are the legal workers in all those industries, jobs aren’t something that are fixed in nature but instead are a function of market forces. So what they pay and the conditions around them are subject to the availability of people willing to take them. But apparently none of that matters to the Democrats seeking power through illegality.

        1. S.J. Jolly July 21, 2013

          The hard-right plan is to scrap the New Deal social safety net — policies such as Unemployment Insurance. Which will give millions of American citizens the choice between working those hard, dirty, dangerous, low pay jobs, or starving. Market forces at work, yes.
          Meanwhile, Tea Party Republicans continue their efforts to enact voter ID laws — without any parallel effort to see to it that all legitimate voters have photo identification. IOW, to disenfranchise legitimate Democrat voters. Technically not seeking power through illegality, but definitely through illegitimate means.

          1. jskdn July 21, 2013

            I’m want people to have the choice to be able to reject jobs that don’t pay well enough to live decent lives, not by getting money from the government but by having better jobs to choose instead. When working people have that choice, employers are forced to pay more in order to obtain employees. Unfortunately so many people’s working lives are being undermined by partisan ideologues like yourself that want to flood the market with enough people from other countries to make that impossible in the service of expanding Democrat demographics with illegal immigration. In doing so power hungry Democrats are are joining with the Republican donor class like Grover Norquist and other cheap labor fans.

          2. S.J. Jolly July 22, 2013

            You caught me: I’m building a hyperspace tunnel system, between the USA and various countries south of the border. All the Latino job seekers need do to use it is register to vote, as Democrats. [And you’ll probably believe this.]


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