Study Finds Skilled Low-Wage Workers

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on September 27, 2012

Further evidence that we don't need to keep importing foreign job competitors: A report just out finds that Chicagoland low-wage workers "are better educated, older, and rely more on that income these days to meet basic needs than 10 years ago."

Working-age individuals in the study comprise almost a third of payroll employees earning $12 an hour or less. One-sixth of those in this income category have a college education.

Almost 57 percent of families have a low-income worker whose entire pay comes from that work. And the share of such earners 30 or older has expanded past 57 percent.

One interesting finding, found on pages 5 and 6 of the report, shows that Chicago's black population may have lost low-paying job opportunities to the area's burgeoning immigrant population. While whites, Hispanics, and Asians all saw their demographics' share of low-wage earners increase from 2001 to 2011, blacks actually fell as a share of holders of these jobs by nearly four percentage points (21.8 percent to 18 percent). Researchers indicate that "This suggests that African-American workers displaced from lower-wage jobs exited the labor force, rather than moving into higher-paying positions."

It seems reasonable to infer that immigration has contributed to the rising low-income dependence in the Chicago area. After all, Illinois is the sixth-ranking immigrant settlement state. Some 4.4 percent of the immigrant population in America resides in the Land of Lincoln. Given that immigrants are disproportionately less educated and more poverty-prone than the native-born, it stands to reason that their job competition against minority Americans would hurt those native minority citizens most.