A Quarter Of Jobs In America Pay Below The Federal Poverty Line

Tyler Durden's picture

Over two years ago (and reiterated last year) Zero Hedge first wrote on what was and is an undisputed transition within the US labor force: a shift from full-time to temp, or part-time labor, with virtually no contractual or welfare benefits, and where workers are lucky to get minimum wage. This is because in the "New Normal" where copious amounts of structural slack are pervasive due precisely to the Fed's constant flawed micromanagement of the economy, the US has now become an "employers' market."

Furthermore, we were the first to make the critical distinction that it is absolutely not all about the quantity of jobs, but much more importantly, the quality of the new jobs being created. However, just like 99% of the general public, and all of the mainstream media, has an inborn genetic disorder preventing it from grasping the distinction between nominal and real, so these two critical aspects of the US jobs market languished unperturbed. Until now, two years later, when we are happy to see that the mainstream media has finally caught up with what our readers knew in December 2010.

From the NYT, and long overdue:

Politicians across the political spectrum herald “job creation,” but frightfully few of them talk about what kinds of jobs are being created. Yet this clearly matters: According to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support themselves and their families.


A quarter of jobs in America pay below the federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,050). Not only are many jobs low-wage, they are also temporary and insecure. Over the last three years, the temp industry added more jobs in the United States than any other, according to the American Staffing Association, the trade group representing temp recruitment agencies, outsourcing specialists and the like.


Low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become the norm. But for some reason this isn’t causing a scandal. At least in the business press, we are more likely to hear plaudits for “lean and mean” companies than angst about the changing nature of work for ordinary Americans.

The "some reason" is that absent from the occasional mention here and there, few if any are aware of what is truly going on beneath the surface of America's (part-time) jobs (non) recovery. 

Sadly, while the NYT is accurate up to this point, from here on out they too lose the narrative:

How did we arrive at this state of affairs? Many argue that it was the inevitable result of macroeconomic forces — globalization, deindustrialization and technological change — beyond our political control. Yet employers had (and have) choices. Rather than squeezing workers, they could have invested in workers and boosted product quality, taking what economists call the high road toward more advanced manufacturing and skilled service work. But this hasn’t happened. Instead, American employers have generally taken the low road: lowering wages and cutting benefits, converting permanent employees into part-time and contingent workers, busting unions and subcontracting and outsourcing jobs. They have done so, in part, because of the extraordinary evangelizing of the temp industry, which rose from humble origins to become a global behemoth.

Actually, the primary reason for the surge in part-time jobs over the past 4 years has everything to do with the ongoing Depression, which few are willing to call it for what it is, and, you guessed it, the Fedeal Reserve. Why? We once again refer readers to an article posted nearly a year ago "How The Fed's Visible Hand Is Forcing Corporate Cash Mismanagement" in which we explained that since the advent of ZIRP culture, companies have proceed to i) hoard cash as corporate management is well aware the current artificial economy is a temporary blip on an otherwise inevitable decline back into global economy purgatory and ii) spend what little cash can be disposed off to generate immediate shareholder returns, in the form of stock buybacks, dividends, and when these are impossible, M&A. Alas, the last thing corporations spend capital on is actual organic growth, so desperately needed if they are to be able to afford a viable employee base. Alas, as we showed two days ago, core capital spending has now been declining virtually non stop since posting a modest Y/Y rebound after the Lehman failure.

It is the chart above that shows in no uncertain terms what the corporate vote of confidence in the US economy is. With the consolidated CapEx trendline decidedly lower and to the right, one thing is certain: the part-time normal is here to stay, as more and more people make the minimum part-time wage their daily routine, all the while the BLS, and the administration both lie in broad daylight that the US economy is currently in a recovery.

And while the rest of the NYT piece is mostly fluff, the conclusion is relatively accurate:

The temp industry’s continued growth even in a boom economy was a testament to its success in helping to forge a new cultural consensus about work and workers. Its model of expendable labor became so entrenched, in fact, that it became “common sense,” leaching into nearly every sector of the economy and allowing the newly renamed “staffing industry” to become sought-after experts on employment and work force development. Outsourcing, insourcing, offshoring and many other hallmarks of the global economy (including the use of “adjuncts” in academia, my own corner of the world) owe no small debt to the ideas developed by the temp industry in the last half-century.


A growing number of people call for bringing outsourced jobs back to America. But if they return as shoddy, poverty-wage jobs — jobs designed for “Never-Never Girls” rather than valued employees — we won’t be better off for having them. If we want good jobs rather than just any jobs, we need to figure out how to preserve what is useful and innovative about temporary employment while jettisoning the anti-worker ideology that has come to accompany it.

And that means differentiating the US work force and making it highly specialized, and attuned to a new world in which increasingly more unskilled labor is being outsourced or outright replaced by conveyer automation and robotics. Alas, that means providing incentives for people to get off the couch, learn a skill, and specialize. And that, courtesy of that other central planning tenet, namely providing each and everyone with just the barely sustainable minimum of welfare entitlement to keep people satisfied and voting for the same person over and over, guarantees that more will fall into the trap of having no marketable skills, and be without even part-time opportunities.

At least, until the welfare funding runs out. Then things get really ugly.

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PAWNMAN's picture

It worked for Barack Hussein Obama. He assured himself a reliable voting block.

Sudden Debt's picture

Start your own sweatshop!
what did you expect?

people want to pay as little as possible for stuff.
so people will earn as little as possible.

and now people are getting more poor, so they'll take even cheaper stuff...
causing.... even lesser pay
causing... them to pay even.... you fill in the rest...

next time you go to wallmart
next time you decide to buy on ebay because it's 5 bucks cheaper than in a store....
next time you buy the chinese crap version that costs half....

you do it to yourselves!
Not that I care. I go to the store and only buy what I need so I'm petty much a mightmare kind of guy for our consumption society :)

Sudden Debt's picture

okay, this month I cheated.... I bought a drone on Ebay because... god knows why...
and I did buy some survival gear and some knives.... god knows why...
and I did order 4 boxes of MRE's... god knows why...
and I bought for about 4k silver coins.... Bernanke knows why :)

Angus McHugepenis's picture

That's nothing... I'm in negotiations to purchase a used B-52. I'll show those fucking drones who's the boss!

camaro68ss's picture

as the ww2 boys use to slap on Swastikas for every german they shot down, you can slap on Obama "O" for all the reaper drowns you shoot down.

Sudden Debt's picture

with mine I can take of myself pilotting my drone from a height!!
427$ well spend!!!

A b52 sound cool but without a atomic bomb and clearence to fly over Hiroshima it's just a fuel gusler... just saying...

Angus McHugepenis's picture

Forgot to mention it comes fully "loaded". I'll just fly it around daring somebody to shoot me down with live cargo on board. When fuel starts getting low I'll demand to be gassed up at the nearest Exxon station... or else...

Sudden Debt's picture

You really figured this one out he.... you wouldn't be needing anybody to man the guns now would ya?
I'm a pro in Call of Duty!!

Angus McHugepenis's picture

Bring your drone. I'll load her in with the rest of the stuff and we can launch your drone out the rear cargo door from 40,000 feet.

America... fuck yeah!

IridiumRebel's picture

You guys know where I can get a F-16? I heard Egypt had a couple fall into their lap. Drones are cool too, but the garage won't fit a B-52....then there is the problem of taking off. Anywho, Abrams tanks are being looked into too, but I'd need a gunner. My daughter says she will only commandeer a drone so she's outta the question. She is more into the "death from above" thing.

Angus McHugepenis's picture

I've got a used Egyptian F-4 Phantom for sale at $25. You arrange shipping and repairing of existing bullet holes in the fuselage.

You must live in a nice town if your daughter won't pick up a rifle and start sniping from the roof of your ghetto. Kids... they shoot the darnedest things via drones in good neighborhoods.

Tanks and aircraft carriers are nothing more than sitting ducks these days. Fly it, fire it, or fuck it... the new recruiting strategy for the military.

ZeroAvatar's picture

There's a dude selling a powered-parachute on Craigslist..................

XitSam's picture

Sound to me like you've got size inferiority issues.

Angus McHugepenis's picture

Yes, I do. I'm worried about how small you are.

Sudden Debt's picture


Now that's a reply I'll remember :)

strangeglove's picture

Gosh Sudden, we hardy knew ya!

Angus McHugepenis's picture

scrappy: Is that why you smell like a fish?

(I know you've been reading Survivalblog). Keep stacking.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Popping antibiotics indiscriminately is very risky and, just FYI, amox is pretty useless these days due to the rise of superbugs ( which arose due to the indiscriminate use of antibiotics!). Might as well use a pea shooter against a tank... But hey, if it makes you feel safer go for it.


Angus McHugepenis's picture

Hey Miffed - The prepper community seems to think all sorts of fish mox and other animal anti-b's are the way to go without consulting a doctor. They don't want the hassle of getting an actual scrip from a family doctor. Can't blame them really.

I won't tell you how to weld or write computer code, but I sure would like you to stick around and edu-macate us simpletons about basic stuff you can write about in your field of expertise. Seriously, somebody needs to speak up about the antibiotic situation that knows something about it. I've always had the feeling that all the prepper talk about animal/fish anti-b's was not very informative, and perhaps dangerous.

You might just save some of us drug newbies some grief if you can help us look out for the dangers of using non scrip meds that were meant to treat animals.

Cheers - Angus

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Dear Angus,
You are a sharp cookie to know when to ask for advice. Guard that skill, it may save your life. Just because I have slept with a programmer for 30 years I would never presume to have any knowledge in that area, though I have been privy to some fascinating info about the construction of Skynet most average Joes never see. He and his colleagues would never delve into the clinical microbiological world without picking my brain as well.

I have been tempted to self medicate in the past when I was severely ill with the flu. I had a stash of Augmentin ( enhanced Amox) but I cultured my sputum before I took it. I had a bacteria called Moraxella catarrhalis which tested Beta lactamase positive. In essence that bacteria could destroy that antibiotic as fast as I could take it. I would have taken a lot of it before I had realized it was not working. During that time, that antibiotic would be killing the good bacteria that populate my body which act as sentries to make it hard for the bad bacteria to take hold. You see the precarious position you put yourself in. Now you are MORE likely to get a so called super bug. It is sad to watch people fall for this out of sheer fear and the magical belief popping some antibiotic will cure all ills. If that were so, I wouldn't have a job. I once had a patient who had a severe CSF infection and nearly died. We gave her a very dangerous antibiotic called Chloramphenicol. It did save her life. She came back a year later with an infection in her arm. She demanded the same antibiotic. We refused because the bacteria infecting her would not be sensitive to Chloramphenicol nor would it be ever used in anything but an infection in CSF. She left the hospital AMA (against medical advice) drove to Tijuana and got the antibiotic. She got aplastic anemia (common side effect ) and died about 6 months later. Sometimes you just can't save people from themselves. So, I urge everyone who has these delusions to look carefully at buying animal or fish antibiotics. Even if the purity is adequate there are many other issues like proper dosage and what bug is causing the infection, some have innate resistance so it's futile to randomly treat. Think of it this way. Say I tell you there is a bad person in a dark room full of people. Would you go in and start shooting randomly? Of course not because the number one rule firing a gun is identifying your target. The same holds true in my field and heaven help you if you violate it.

Any questions from the ZH community are very welcome. I am not a Dr but I will answer in my area of expertise. ZH has given me so much I am honored to pay back the debt I have to so many here for posting such valuable info I have found no where else.

Best wishes always and stay well!


Angus McHugepenis's picture

Thanks Miffed - Sorry for the delayed reply. My "spidey senses" go on red alert when it comes to preppers giving medical or legal advice.
I'm just gonna stockpile garlic and eat a ton of it every day if the SHTF. Unless you have some observations about that???

RebelDevil's picture

It all tracks back to one thing: OIL.
To blame the people for these high prices is a Randian view. The fact that no one in power wants a cheaper energy source is to blame for the increase of overall costs, regardless of inflation!

joego1's picture

The only thing that keeps me from getting depressed about all this that I shedded my sheeple outfit and decoupled from the system a few years ago. Now I'm a prepped out fly on the wall watching it all go down.

Ned Zeppelin's picture

Why is this not news to me?

Oh, that's right.  I read Zero HEdge.

Sophist Economicus's picture

This NYT article is a 'seed'. Planted to start a narrative about the controls that will need to be put in place so that 'businesses' don't take the low road

NidStyles's picture

I was thinking the same thing. Preempting and prepping people for wage and price controls.

joego1's picture

These jobs don't count the under the table immigrant work force of course. Another option for employers to avoid having full time employees on the books.

NidStyles's picture

I'll work under the table, and I'm not an Immigrant. I also speak great English. Better to starve the beast than keep feeding it it so it can gobble me up.

DosZap's picture

These jobs don't count the under the table immigrant work force of course.

New stats out today, there are an estimated 40.4 Million undocs in the USA.(not just Hispanics).

Wilcat Dafoe's picture

sorry if this is off thread - but doesn't thsi make it more likely that 'they' want to quickly start a nice world war?

I used to be very skeptical that WWI and WWII were planned by "bankers" well in advance, but it does seem a great way for those in power to escape a monetary crisis, as many of the posters there have suggested.

Posted this link already, hope that's forgiveable, but I think this is really... just an important article out of Iran:


ihedgemyhedges's picture

"sorry if this is off thread..."

What do you mean "if"?  Moron..................

Motorhead's picture

But, hey, Dick "Oy Vey" Bove' sees banks going on a 14-year tear.



debtor of last resort's picture

Poverty is the squeeze between capitalism and socialism. Most people can't float because the puppet masters have agenda's with just 2 pages: power & profit.

NEOSERF's picture

My first thought is this where Unions should be making a comeback.  But who can even bother the time or the dues to get organized in this part-time scenario.  Rather expect some sort of "flashmob union efforts" via social media to become the norm where business are shut down for hours or days based on twitter organization. 

espirit's picture

That's worthy of a "Twit".

Temporalist's picture

"Shovel ready jobs are in the wings."

"The green economy will be a game changer."

"Education is what is needed to prepare the future workforce."

"Free phones are necessary for everyone in today's workforce."


Temporalist's picture

"You didn't build that."

"Housing has never dropped on a nationwide scale."

"There are no solvency issues."

"We are trasitioning to a service economy."

"Deficits don't matter."

"If I only had a trillion dollar platinum coin none of this would have happened."

"Would you like fries with that?"

Temporalist's picture

"We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it."

"Read my lips - no new taxes."

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

"I believe that children are our future."

"When it becomes serious you have to lie."


nmewn's picture

"Eat your peas!"

"I can't guarantee Granny will get her check."


"Posted on-line at least 72hrs before a vote so the people can comment."


"Bitterly clinging..."

"If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."

"If I had a son, I'm not sure I would let him play football."

Salt's picture

Watch your street corners. When certain job seekers start to get numerous and pretty you'll know you're really in the shit.

lakecity55's picture

"Yes, minion?"

"Your Imamness, we have 25% of the People below poverty."

"Not enough! Give me 100% or it's your head, minion!"

"Yes, your High-Ness."

jplotinus's picture

Tylers, would you please take into consideration that in America it is forbidden to say, publicize, print or publicly disseminate any fundamental criticism of capitalism.

You might be able to get away with saying, as you have, that "the US has now become an "employers' market." But, you are not allowed to say that capitalism actually seeks, covets and strives to pay people as little as possible and to keep them insecure and dependent.

ZH posters love to bandy about terms like "private sector this" and " free market that." However, they do not acknowledge, let alone take responsibility for the logical outcomes of what they purport to support.

Capitalism is the culprit here, pure and simple.

That is what must be overthrown if people in America are ever to be restored to a place where secure jobs with living wages and decent benefits and a secure retirement are to be had.

Capitalism is manifestly incapable of doing that. In fact, good jobs are not even a goal of capitalism. Good jobs mean it's an employees market, something that is anathema to capitalism where employers markets are the desired outcome.

The article is a good one. It becomes a better one when its observations are used to think the matter through to the root source of the problem.

That would be capitalism.

Temporalist's picture

Did your mother ride a mule when she was pregnant or just sleep with one?

akak's picture

I liked you better when you were condemning "US 'american' citizenism" in mangled Engrish.

Now it's on to "capitalism", eh?

I guess "capitalism" is the new mattering thing, the crustiest bit of it.

Angus McHugepenis's picture

Oh Noes... did AnAnonymous get booted by Tyler and have to sign up for a new name? If so, good catch akak.
Now, please step away from the roadside shitting scene while forensics tries to get a DNA match.

akak's picture


Now, please step away from the roadside shitting scene while forensics tries to get a DNA match.

Won't work --- it will mostly just show post-wok canine and feline DNA anyway.