Next American City: The Urban Implications of the Walmart Strikers

Philadelphia | 10/22/2012 10:45am | 0
JAKE BLUMGART | NEXT AMERICAN CITY

Massive levels of income inequality, and the accompanying army of low-wage service positions, have defined America’s cities in recent decades. The unionized manufacturing economy that propelled so many working class families upwards is a shriveled remnant of its former self, replaced by urban economies dependent on universities, hospitals and sleek towers of white-collar professionals. For the majority of urban dwellers who lack the degrees necessary to rise past minimum wage positions within these anchor institutions, there are minimum wage jobs in the restaurants, laundries, stores that service the downtown engines.

“Look at almost any major urban center in the U.S.—Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore—and you see the hulking remains of a manufacturing economy,” says Mark Price, labor economist for the Keystone Research Center, a Pennsylvania think tank that focuses on economic issues. “When you think about Philadelphia manufacturing has been replaced by an hourglass economy, jobs at the top, a few in the middle, and a lot at the bottom.”

Across the country, one out of every four jobs now pays less than $10 an hour and are largely concentrated in these traditionally low-paying sectors, according to a recent study by theNational Employment Law Project. These sectors are growing faster than overall employment in the U.S., and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the next decade will bring more of the same.