Prosperity Watch Issue 36, No. 4: North Carolina needs good jobs

Not only does North Carolina need more jobs, the state needs good jobs. Since the end of the Great Recession, public debate has rightly focused on creating a greater number of employment opportunities to meet the needs of jobless workers. And while full employment is certainly a pre-requisite for ensuring that the recovery truly benefits all workers, it is critical for the jobs that are created to be “good” jobs that make work pay.  A good job is defined not just by wage levels but also by the availability of employer-provided benefits that support the health of workers, their retirement security and the ability for career mobility.

In North Carolina, analysis shows that the past decade has delivered growth in poverty-level wages while the availability of middle-wage jobs has actually declined. From 2000 to 2012, jobs paying less than $23,483 a year grew by 18.9 percent while jobs paying between $28,767 and $43,950 a year, middle-wage jobs, declined by 10 percent.

To reverse the tide of low-wage work and sustain a vibrant middle class, North Carolina needs to generate jobs that that pay a wage capable of sustaining workers and their families above poverty.  To do so, it is clear that workers need both better wages and access to the tools that ensure the broader economic security from medical debt, job loss and poverty in old age, for example. Recently released data from the Working Poor Families Project provides insight into several other measures of job quality that are also important to monitor as North Carolina seeks to address the state’s jobs deficit with good, quality jobs for workers and their families.

In 2001, 15.7 percent of workers in North Carolina didn’t have health insurance.  In 2011, less than one in five workers had health insurance.  Access to health insurance can deliver improved health outcomes as workers have better access to preventive care.

For those workers who do and don’t have health insurance, there is also the issue of whether they can take the time off when they are sick or a family member needs to be cared for. In North Carolina, almost half of the private-sector work force—and two-thirds of low-income workers—lack access to any earned paid sick days.

Access to a retirement plan or pension is also an important part of a good job and yet, more than a third of families arrive at retirement with only Social Security. In North Carolina, 59.2 percent of workers aged 18 and older do not have an employer provided pension as of 2009-2012.  This figure is up from 53.6 percent in 1999-2001. While Social Security continues to be an effective tool at holding down poverty levels among older Americans, it is clear that retirement savings is needed to support economic security in old age.

Good jobs are jobs that allow families to maintain basic spending on necessities like food and doctor visits, while keeping families out of poverty and on the path to the middle class. They are essential for building thriving communities and economies.
 

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