And among those who do have jobs, wages are not rising.
Take Natividad Lucinda Ramirez, a 55-year-old janitorial worker at Washington’s Union Station. She makes $8.75 an hour as an employee of a janitorial firm under contract by the federal government to maintain the historic train depot. She holds down a second job, working about 60 hours a week. She has no health care benefits. She is married and cares for six nephews.
“I’ve never asked for anything from the government,” she said. But she joined a number of other workers Wednesday to call on Obama to issue an executive order mandating federal contractors to pay a higher wage.
A study by the public-interest organization Demos, which advocates for workers, concluded that nearly 2 million workers who have jobs paid by taxpayers earn less than $12 an hour, or the equivalent of $24,000 a year for fulltime work. Critics argue that any mandate to increase pay will result in higher costs to taxpayers. But Demos analysts argue that higher wages help save money by reducing employee turnover and save taxpayers by lowering the number of workers who obtain food stamps and other government benefits.
Still, among the bright spots in the economy is the growth of manufacturing jobs. Since February 2010, the manufacturing sector has added a net of about half a million jobs, compared to a loss of 1.7 million manufacturing jobs during the 46-month recovery that began in November 2001.
Alan Krueger, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, credits the 2009-2010 rescue of the auto industry for much of the turnaround in manufacturing. But Krueger cites current budget cuts, caused by the sequestration of funds that kicked in March 1, as drag for the economy in the short run and the long run.
“Every week the sequester stays in effect, the more adverse the effect on the economy,” he said. “It’s a headwind we don’t need right now.”