May Jobs Report Lands Amidst Wave of Action to Raise Wages

Washington, DC—Today’s release of the May jobs report caps off a week of intense focus on America’s increasingly low-wage economy, resulting from Seattle’s historic passage of an unprecedented $15 citywide minimum wage.

The nation’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.3 percent. Around 9.8 million workers were unemployed in May, and 3.4 million, or 34.6 percent, of those workers were searching for work for six months or more. The economy added 217,000 jobs, with 72,000 of these new jobs located in the lower-wage retail, food services, and administrative support services industries.

“Growth in low-wage jobs remains robust, but the people working in these jobs that pay poverty wages cannot support themselves and their families,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “With Congress seemingly stuck when it comes to addressing the crises facing America’s workers, cities and states around the nation are proactively raising their own minimum wages. Seattle’s move to raise its wage floor to $15 an hour sets a new benchmark that is already inspiring other jurisdictions to follow suit.”

Other cities pursuing higher minimum wages include Chicago ($15 per hour for large employers), San Francisco ($15 per hour), New York City, San Diego, and Portland, Maine. The California State Senate last month voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $13 an hour. Eight states have already approved minimum wage increases this year, with Connecticut, Maryland, and Hawaii approving increases to $10.10 an hour, and Vermont raising its minimum wage to $10.50 an hour.

The call for higher wages hasn’t been limited to legislative initiatives. In recent weeks, workers across the country have walked off the job, calling for higher wages. Fast-food workers went on strike in more than 150 cities, calling for $15 per hour, and Walmart workers are on strike this week, calling for $25,000 annual salaries.

NELP’s recent report, The Low-Wage Recovery, found that four years into the recovery, low-wage industries continue to dominate job growth. The report found that job losses during the recession were heaviest in mid- and higher-wage industries, while job gains since then have been concentrated in lower-wage industries. The report underscores the urgent need to address the wage crisis by raising the minimum wage, fixing outdated overtime pay exemptions, and taking other steps to ensure that the jobs available to today’s job-seekers pay a living wage.

Low wages hurt families and hamper the economy’s rebound, but continued high long-term unemployment remains a national emergency as well. Although the ranks of the long-term unemployed have shrunk some in recent months, there are still roughly two-and-a-half times more long-term unemployed today than when the recession began, and the decline in long-term unemployment has been far slower than the overall decline in unemployment. Nevertheless, Speaker Boehner last week allowed the clock to run out on a bipartisan Senate-passed bill to renew federal jobless aid for the long-term unemployed. After Senate adoption of the measure, nearly two months passed with no action by the Speaker to take up the bill, even though the Senate bill satisfied the conditions he and his colleagues had earlier set. The bill would have extended federal jobless aid to May 31st.

“Speaker Boehner chose to run out the clock on the Senate’s unemployment extension, rather than allow a simple up-or-down vote,” said Owens. “It’s shameful that this bill received no consideration in the House, just as it’s shameful that the long-term unemployed continue to receive no consideration from so many of their elected representatives.”

Emma Stieglitz
(646) 200-5307

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