The low-wage labor market in the U.S. presents a number of
challenges for workers. For many, minimum wage jobs don’t provide
higher than a poverty level income. Another challenge is that
many low-wage jobs come with uncertainty in scheduling and hours,
which makes it difficult to get the training and education it
takes to get better jobs. Learn more here about the low-wage
In this Keynote presentation, Paul Osterman discusses the
low-wage labor market and policies that affect low-wage workers.
Osterman is the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Professor
of Human Resources and Management at the M.I.T. Sloan School of
Management as well as a member of the Department of Urban
Planning at M.I.T.
Official measures of poverty may not capture the difficulties
afflicting low-wage workers, since households can still
experience material hardship while not considered poor by
official measures. From a survey of front-line service workers,
we find that material hardship is associated with higher levels
of self-reported depression and overall poorer mental health.
This suggests that the mental health of low-wage workers may
benefit from laws that not only increase earnings but also
facilitate income stability. Low-wage workers may also benefit
from programs that directly address material hardship.
In this podcast, Harry Holzer and Center Director Ann Stevens
discuss how colleges have taken on the role of building the U.S.
labor force. In March, 2015, Holzer visited the center as a
Visiting Scholar to present the seminar “Building Labor Market
Skills among Disadvantaged Americans.”
With unauthorized youth at the forefront of immigration reform
discourse and policy proposals, understanding the diversity of
their profiles and experiences is necessary to create holistic
For an extended period now, U.S. farms have enjoyed an abundance
of workers from Mexico who work for stable or decreasing real
wages. However, since 2008 the overall number of these farm
workers, both these working in the U.S. and those who remain in
Mexico, has shrunk substantially.
Those who come to the United States looking for work compete with
some groups of native-born workers but complement others. Since
wages and the local poverty rate play a part in how many arrive,
it is a challenge to quantify the effect they in turn have on
both, and whether they push native workers below the poverty