America’s Lower-Wage Workforce: Employer and Worker Perspectives

With a focus on generating new and actionable data on the lower-wage workforce in America to inform the national dialogue, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs research conducted a unique two-part study to better understand how lower-wage workers and employers think about jobs and opportunities for advancing workers’ careers.

With funding from The Joyce Foundation, The Hitachi Foundation, and NORC at the University of Chicago, the AP-NORC Center conducted multimode surveys with 1,606 lower-wage workers and 1,487 employers of lower-wage workers between August 2012 and January 2013 to measure both worker and employer perspectives on the economic outlook, working conditions, and opportunities for advancement for workers in jobs that pay $35,000 or less per year.

MoneybagsThe study reveals several critical issues with the potential to inform the policy conversation around investments in America’s new economy and the workers who help drive it.

  • Most employers of lower-wage workers say that while these workers do acquire the needed skills over time, they are not prepared when they are first hired. While employers are investing in skill development and training for their lower-wage workforce, only a slim majority of employers is confident that it can invest in the future to keep lower-wage workers’ skills up to date.
  • A large majority of employers report that additional job training and general education are very important for lower-wage workers’ career advancement, but many lower-wage workers disagree about the importance of additional training and education for getting ahead in their careers.
  • Employers are offering a range of training programs and benefits to their lower-wage workers, but not many employers offer benefits that lead to portable skills or education the worker can use to advance his or her career outside their current company.
  • There is evidence of widespread under-utilization of training programs. Lower-wage workers are not taking advantage of employer-sponsored or government sponsored benefits. Similarly, only a small minority of employers are taking advantage of public-private partnerships and other opportunities to encourage training of the lower-wage workforce.
  • In spite of widespread national attention on these issues, most workers and employers place the responsibility for getting ahead on individual workers. A much smaller fraction places responsibility on employers and educational institutions. Workers and employers assign government only a small share of responsibility in helping workers advance.
  • Lower-wage workers are struggling to get ahead in their jobs and lives. Compared to national averages, lower-wage workers are far less likely to be satisfied in their job or to feel valued for the work they do. Lower-wage workers perceive few opportunities for advancement moving forward and many have not yet advanced in their current jobs. Pessimism is especially acute among whites and younger workers.

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