Mitnik, Pablo. 2009. “Low-Wage Work in the United States: Basic Facts, Welfare Consequences and Intragenerational Upward Mobility,” Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality Working Paper.


This paper offers a quantitative characterization of low-wage jobs and workers in the United States, and argues that low-wage jobs are a serious reason for concern. Although the latter may seem rather self-evident, both the public and the academic understandings of the deleterious welfare consequences of low-wage jobs have been obscured by two oft-repeated arguments. The first is that resource-pooling at the family or household level, in-kind public transfers and the Earned Income Tax Credit make the high prevalence of low-wage work an issue with a rather minor normative import. The second is that the country is characterized by very high levels of intra-generational upward mobility, and that only “the undeserving few” remain stuck in bad jobs. To address these arguments I show that low-wage work very often results in material deprivation, and that a large share of low-wage workers gets trapped in low-wage jobs for long periods of time, if not for their whole careers.