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


Our literature review focuses on the small number of empirical studies that have examined the characteristics and labor market experiences of low-wage workers. A much larger body of literature exists on the labor market experiences of all adult workers, but we present results from these studies only when they are pertinent to low-wage workers. Similarly, there is a growing literature on the employment experiences of people who left welfare for work after the passage of PRWORA. The employed welfare population, however, is a narrow segment of the population of all low-wage workers. Therefore, we present findings for the employed welfare population to supplement our main presentation, but we do not provide a complete literature review for this group. Finally, a large body of literature exists on topics tangential to those that our study covers, such as income inequality and the demand for low-skilled workers. These topics are clearly related to those of our study. We do not directly address them in our empirical analysis, however. Thus, to keep our literature review focused, we do not discuss these topics.

The literature review contains three sections. First, we discuss how researchers have defined low-wage workers. Second, we summarize the literature on the characteristics of low-wage workers and their jobs. Finally, we discuss what is known about job turnover and wage progression for those in the low-wage labor market.

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