Jobs play a central role in the lives of most adults. As forces like globalization and automation reshape the labor market, it is clear that some people and places are positioned to do well while others risk becoming collateral damage. The well-educated and technically savvy find ample employment opportunities, while those with lower levels of education face a labor market that is decidedly less welcoming, with lower wages and less potential for career growth. Meanwhile, some regions dramatically outpace others in job growth, incomes, and productivity, raising disquieting questions about how best to promote broad-based economic growth.
More than 53 million people— 44% of all workers aged 18-64—are low-wage workers by our criteria. They earn median hourly wages of $10.22 and median annual earnings of $17,950.
Low-wage workers as a share of all workers varies considerably by metropolitan area
Not surprisingly, the largest metropolitan areas have the highest numbers of low-wage workers: 3.5 million in the New York City area, 2.7 million in the Los Angeles region, 1.6 million in Chicago, and about 1.2 million each in Dallas, Miami, and Houston. In smaller metros, such as Pine Bluff, Ark., Walla Walla, Wash., and Ithaca, N.Y., there are fewer than 15,000 low-wage workers.