Characteristics of Low-Wage Workers and Their Labor Market Experiences: Evidence from the Mid- to Late 1990s. Changes in Job Characteristics

04/30/2004

Not only did low-wage workers experience wage growth, but they also worked more hours and moved into better jobs over time. The fraction of low-wage workers working full-time (defined as 35 or more hours) went up from 76 percent to 86 percent over the three-year period for males, and from 54 percent to 69 percent for females. Similarly, average hours worked for those starting low-wage jobs increased slightly over time, by about three to four hours per week (Table V.2).

Low-wage workers also moved into jobs that offered fringe benefits such as health insurance. As Table V.2 shows, 52 percent of male workers had health coverage through their jobs at the end of the follow-up period, compared with only 24 percent of those in their initial job. Female workers were more likely than male workers to have employer-based health coverage at the start of their jobs (34 percent), and they continued to move into jobs with health insurance coverage. By the end of the follow-up period, 65 percent of females had employer-based health insurance coverage.

Table V.2.
Characterisitics Of Initial Low-Wage Job And The Job Held Three Years Later
Job Characteristics Male Workers(a) Female Workers(a)
Initial Job Most Recent Job Initial Job Most Recent Job
Hourly Wages
   Less than $5.00 18 7 24 7
   $5.00 to $5.99 27 12 30 16
   $6.00 to $6.99 25 12 26 17
   $7.00 to $7.99 31 13 20 19
   $8.00 to $8.99 -- 14 -- 13
   $9.00 to $9.99 -- 11 -- 11
   $10.00 to $10.99 -- 9 -- 7
   $11.00 to $11.99 -- 8 -- 3
   $12.00 or more -- 14 -- 9
   (Average hourly wage, in dollars) ($6.07) ($8.96) ($5.78) ($8.04)
Usual Hours Worked Per Week
   1 to 19 8 5 16 10
   20 to 34 17 10 30 20
   35 to 40 54 60 46 62
   More than 40 22 26 8 8
   (Average hours worked) (38) (41) (31) (35)
   Covered by Health Insurance(b) 24 52 34 65
Occupation
   Professional/technical 8 11 10 15
   Sales/retail 11 10 17 14
   Administrative support/clerical 6 6 19 22
   Service professions/handlers/cleaners 34 31 39 34
   Machine/construction/production/
transportation
29 36 12 13
   Farm/agricultural/other workers 11 6 3 2
Industry
   Agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting 11 8 8 6
   Mining/manufacturing/construction 21 26 11 14
   Transportation/utilities 6 7 2 4
   Wholesale/retail trade 30 25 31 26
   Personal services 14 12 20 12
   Health services 2 2 8 11
   Other services 11 15 20 27
   Other 6 5 1 1
Union Member 3 8 2 4
Owns Business/Self-Employed 9 8 6 5
Sample Size 491 491 693 693
Source: 1996 SIPP longitudinal file using workers who started low-wage jobs within six months after the start of the panel period.
Note: All figures are weighted using the longitudinal panel weight.
a. The interpretation of the statistics can be illustrated using the union figures, which show that three percent of all male workers were union members in their initial jobs, and eight percent of all workers were union members in their most recent jobs.
b. SIPP contains information on employer-based health insurance coverage only for jobs that were in progress at the time of the interview. Thus, the health insurance figures in this table pertain to jobs held by sample members at the time of the wave 1 and the wave 12 interviews.

We observe some small movements over time in the occupations and industries of low-wage workers. Compared to their initial jobs, male workers were somewhat more likely to be in construction and production jobs and in professional and technical jobs and were less likely to be in agricultural or service jobs three years later. Similarly, female workers were more likely to move into professional and technical and administrative support occupations and were less likely to be in service and sales jobs. Low-wage workers, especially male workers, were also more likely to move into unionized jobs.

In contrast to low-wage workers, we did not see much change in hours worked over time for medium- and high-wage workers, especially among males (Table D.5). The only notable change we observed was for high-wage female workers, who actually experienced a slight reduction in hours worked. Similar to low-wage workers, medium-wage workers were considerably more likely to move to jobs that offer fringe benefits, such as health insurance. The majority of high-wage workers already were in jobs that offered health insurance at the time of initial job start. We did not observe changes in industry and occupation for these higher-wage workers.

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