- Unemployment may be low, but many workers are struggling to make ends meet in low-paying jobs, according to research from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.
- The report revealed that 53 million Americans are earning a median wage of $10.22 an hour, or $17,950 a year. Black and Hispanic workers and women are disproportionately represented in this group, with black and Hispanic workers also earning less than white workers with the same level of education and experience.
- The authors made three recommendations aimed at advancing higher wages and financial stability: improve worker skills; address discrimination and bias; and promote good jobs through economic and workforce development.
As the report's authors noted, education and training can enable low-wage workers to upgrade their skills and potentially raise their earnings. Employers, too, have been on board with upskilling in recent years, hoping to improve the skills of current employees instead of hiring in a tight labor market. Some also believe education offerings can help with talent attraction and retention. In fact, June findings from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans revealed that 92% of U.S. employers had invested in some type of educational benefit such as tuition assistance or reimbursement, in-house training seminars, conferences, coverage for licensing courses and exams and personal development courses.
But a lack of in-demand skills isn't the only factor at play, as the Brookings report noted. Employees still face pay discrimination based on protected characteristics. While gender pay gaps dominate headlines, employers may need to consider other demographics in their pay audits. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continues to see "robust pay disparities based on gender in particular but also race, national origin and other areas," EEOC Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows told attendees at the American Bar Association's 13th Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference last week.
To prevent discrimination claims, employers can take several steps, Burrows and other experts said at the conference. For example, HR should work to: keep job descriptions accurate, engage in market research, eliminate bias-producing information from job applications, conduct pay analyses and seek the opinion of any unions involved.