Study confirms what Minnesota low-wage workers know: life is tough

ST. PAUL, Minn. (PAI and Workday Minnesota) – A new study on “The Future of Work in Minnesota” confirms what low-wage workers have been saying in their demonstrations for weeks: wages are too low. And wage theft, erratic scheduling, and lack of paid sick days are serious problems.

The report was done by Minnesotans for a Fair Economy and announced by Working America, an organization of some three million workers, including 300,000 in Minnesota. Though the new study is Minnesota-specific, Working America’s findings could easily cover low-wage workers nationwide.

“Too many Minnesotans are living in poverty even though they are working,” said Bree Halverson, Minnesota state director for Working America. The report found:

The incomes of most Minnesotans have declined in the past 10 years, when adjusted for inflation.

Many middle class jobs that paid decent wages and benefits were lost during the recent recession and replaced with low-paying service sector jobs.

Occupations seeing the most growth in Minnesota pay poverty wages and lack benefits such as paid sick time.

A growing number of workers have had to adapt to employment arrangements that are unstable and unpredictable.

Large companies shifted from employing workers directly to greater use of subcontractors, temporary employment agencies and workers misclassified as independent contractors.

Anne Lott, a certified nursing assistant who lives in Minneapolis, works three part-time jobs as a home health aide, one of the fastest growing occupations the report identified. That occupation pays a median hourly wage of $11.09 an hour. But the low wage isn’t the end of it.

Lack of paid sick time is a problem, she told reporters at the news conference held to announce the study. “When I was sick, I had to go to work,” Lott said. “When I go to work, I put my clients at risk. We as health care workers need paid sick days.”

Jim Parsons of Minneapolis quit his part-time retail job at the Brookstone store in the Mall of America as his schedule became more and more erratic. Many retailers are moving to “just-in-time scheduling” where they call in workers or dismiss them from a shift at a moment’s notice, he said. Parsons also was expected to respond to automatic security calls for the store in the middle of the night for no pay.

“It is great for the company, but for the workers, it means you can’t plan,” he said. Parsons is currently supporting his family through two part-time jobs doing telemarketing and bus driving.

The erratic nature of workers’ schedules was underlined when one person who planned to speak at the news conference, Ethel Buckingham, was called into work on short notice. Her brother, Omari Thomas, read a statement on her behalf, describing the difficulty she is having making ends meet and taking care of her family.

All of the factors outlined in the report – low wages, lack of paid sick time and retirement security, erratic scheduling and the growth of part-time and contingent work – affect people across the state, Halverson noted. But the study found these problems disproportionately affect women and people of color.

Working America and the groups that supported the report, including TakeAction Minnesota, ISAIAH and a number of unions, will use the findings to pursue solutions, including possible legislation, Halverson said.

This year, the groups were part of a coalition that moved legislators to increase Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016. In recent weeks, they supported rallies and other events calling attention to low wages at Wal-Mart, fast food chains and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The entire Working America report is available here.

Photo: Striking janitors marched to Target in St. Paul during Black Friday protests last year. Union Advocate


Barb Kucera
Barb Kucera

Barb Kucera was editor of Workday Minnesota. She served for 6 years as director of the Labor Education Service, which publishes Workday. Kucera has degrees in journalism and industrial relations and a background in communications, including as editor of The Union Advocate. She is an associate member of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild/CWA Local 37002.