This study evaluates the distribution of low-wage work across U.S. cities, focusing on the characteristics of local labor markets that may mediate the likelihood of low-wage employment. We illustrate the large geographic variation of low-wage work across U.S. cities, examine the demographic characteristics of low-wage workers, and analyze the effects of a city’s urban economy and regulatory climate on the probability of low-wage employment.
Method: Using a multilevel analysis, we evaluate whether individual characteristics alone account for low-wage employment, or whether a metropolitan region’s characteristics might matter, too. For example, would the same immigrant worker experience the same likelihood of low-wage employment whether she resides in Los Angeles or Chicago or San Francisco? We utilize the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group file that provides a rigorous measure of hourly wages and sizable sample counts across the largest 27 metropolitan labor markets in the U.S.
Results: We find that local regulatory effects such as the unionization rate and metropolitan minimum wages significantly reduce the likelihood of low-wage employment for less-educated workers. These same workers in urban economies with larger shares of retail and food services employment—engines of the low-wage economy—are more likely to be employed in low-wage work.
Conclusion/Implication: In this study, we find that local labor market regulation reduces the likelihood that less-educated workers will be employed in low-wage work. These regulatory mechanisms, whether labor market institutions such as unions or policies such as city minimum wages, raise standards in local labor markets and reduce the likelihood of low-wage employment.
Doussard, Marc. (2013). Degraded work: The struggle at the bottom of the labor market. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.