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Why it’s not so easy to move from a minimum-wage job

Fast-food workers who are seeking higher pay often face a common criticism: If you want a better paying job, just go out and find one. 

But a new study sheds light on why that’s not as easy as it seems. Since the recession, new jobs are being created, but most of them are in low-wage roles such as restaurant cashiers and servers, while the number of high-paying jobs has declined, the Alliance for a Just Society finds in a December report. 

Behind the criticism of minimum-wage workers is an inherit belief that they lack the motivation to hunt down a better paying job. But the figures released by the Alliance for a Just Society, an advocacy group devoted to economic and social justice, illustrates how difficult it is to find a living wage, often defined as jobs paying $15 or more per hour. 

Fast food workers across the U.S. stage protest for higher wages
 The number of low-wage jobs — those that pay less than $15 an hour — increased by more than 3.6 million from the official end of the recession through 2012, the study notes. Unfortunately, the number of jobs paying $15 an hour or more decreased by 4 million during the same time period. 

“This is America’s new, low-wage economy,” the study’s authors, Ben Henry and Allyson Fredericksen, write. “A small, and shrinking, proportion of jobs pay enough for families to make ends meet.”

The study comes at a crucial time for fast-food workers, as employees at McDonald’s (MCD), Burger King (BKW) and other restaurant chains walked off their jobs earlier this month in protest of low wages. Their goal is to raise their hourly rate to $15, with the average fast-food worker now earning about $9 per

Walmart protests held in 15 cities across the U.S.
 To be sure, low-paying jobs are often the first to rebound in an economic recovery. Once businesses feel as they’ve found more stable footing, they typically start to add higher-paying jobs. 

Recent data supports the idea that jobs may be returning to higher paying professions. In its November data on the unemployment rate, which reached a seven-year low, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that sectors from manufacturing to professional and business services are hiring. 

Still, there’s fierce competition for those higher-paying jobs. Each position that pays above $15 an hour has an average of seven job-seekers, the Alliance for a Just Society found. 

That might explain why Americans remain dour about the economy, with a CBS News/New York Times Poll on Tuesday finding that 69 percent of Americans say the economy is in bad condition

“Tens of millions of workers are not making ends meet,” the Alliance for a Just Society notes in its report. “And we find that, for these low-wage workers, it’s not as simple as finding another job."