The Long Run Careers of Low-Wage Workers: Next Steps for Research

Project Date:
Dec 2001
Award Amount:
$169,070
Project Programs:
Future of Work

Who gets stuck in low-wage jobs and who advances to higher paying jobs? How have tighter labor markets and the welfare-to-work legislation affected low-wage workers? Eight years ago, Katherine Newman of Harvard University conducted a study of fast-food workers in Harlem and reported the results in her book No Shame in My Game. In a follow-up study in 1997, she found that one-third of her interviewees had experienced wage gains of more than $5 per hour; another third was stagnant; and the remaining third was worse off. With assistance from the Foundation, Newman is now conducting a second follow-up study of her original sample to discern the effects of the changing labor market as well as to identify family formation patterns and the fate of the low-wage worker’s children. She will also consult on a project directed by Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, which compares low-wage workers’ trajectories when working in firms that invest in their training with firms that do not. To see if the findings from her Harlem study correlate nationally, Newman will also team up with Peter Gottschalk and Helen Connolly of Boston University, who have conducted a national survey examining the wage trajectories of low-skilled workers. She will compile the results of her past and current research, as well as her collaborations, in a new book.

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