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When our economy first crashed during the Great Recession, we were told if we lower wages more people will be able to work.
Since then, job growth has slowly improved, but has not replaced those lost jobs. Middle-wage occupations accounted for 60 percent of jobs lost between 2007 and 2009, yet they represent only 20 percent of post-recession job growth.
Low-wage jobs are the recovery. A study by the National Employment Law Project shows low-wage positions are concentrated primarily in the health care, retail and fast-food industries and account for three out of five "newly created" jobs.
Our regional job providers include nursing homes and assisted living facilities, big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Staples, and fast-food chains like McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway.
The low wages these businesses pay their workers impose hidden costs on all of us. These jobs pay so little that families have to rely on public programs to survive.
The rest of us subsidize those low wages with higher taxes, which pay for programs like food stamps and housing because these jobs pay below-subsistence wages.
A new study shows that health care workers comprise 20 percent of all those who receive public assistance. Nearly 80 percent of Wal-Mart's employees use food stamps and fewer than half have any health care coverage. More than 50 percent of fast-food workers receive some form of public assistance, and nearly 90 percent have no health care coverage.
Coupled with six years of high unemployment, the growth of low-wage jobs without benefits has stretched our nation's safety nets to the breaking point. Yet the hidden public cost of low-wage work rarely factors into debates about state and national policy.
At the end of the day, having companies pay a living wage is about fiscal and moral responsibility.