You don't have to be an economic victim of the Great Recession to know that America's middle class is being squeezed in an unprecedented manner. Not only is the U.S. middle class no longer the world's richest, according to recent research, but millions of families who were once financially secure are now living hand-to-mouth.
What's going on? A new report from the National Employment Law Project finds that, nearly five years after the recession officially ended, most of the jobs that have been created during the recovery offer lower wages. Such positions made up 22 percent of jobs lost in the recession, but have accounted for 44 percent of employment growth.
The labor research and advocacy group also found that, from the outset of the recession in late 2007 to its low point in February of 2010, "employment losses occurred throughout the economy, but were concentrated in mid-wage and higher-wage industries."
By contrast, mid-wage positions, which composed 37 percent of the jobs cut in the recession, have made up only 26 percent of those recovered. High-wage industries, which made up 41 percent of recession jobs lost, reportedly had a 30 percent recovery growth.
"Today, there are nearly 2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were before the recession took hold, while there are 1.85 million more jobs in lower-wage industries," NELP said in a statement,
The growth of low-wage work in the private sector has been led by service industries, with areas such as restaurant, administrative and support jobs accounting for 39 percent of the sector's employment growth over the past four years.
That change in the labor market, along with the fact that more than 10 million Americans remain unemployed, seems to be affecting social attitudes. Even as the economy limps toward recovery, fewer Americans think of themselves as middle class, according to a Pew Research Center/ USA Today survey released earlier this year.
Some experts believe this could represent the "new normal," as a post-recession America finds itself hustling harder than ever to compete in the international marketplace.
"It is quite visible why we have had this erosion of the middle class," Peter Edelman, director of Georgetown University's Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy recently told The Sacramento Bee, "because we have become this low-wage nation with globalization and technology fostering foreign competition and easing the way for U.S. businesses to move jobs out of the country."