The May Federal Jobs Report and the Fight for $15

By Sharon Post

The month of May 2014 saw job growth of 217,000 in the U.S. but no change in the number of people who are unemployed. Perhaps buoyed by the news of job growth, 218,000 unemployed people who had abandoned the search for work re-entered the labor force in May. But what awaits those hopeful job-seekers?


Although we’ve had several months of relatively positive jobs reports, the pace of job growth has been too slow to employ the nearly 10 million officially unemployed workers in any reasonable amount of time. The number of workers without jobs for 27 weeks or more did not change in May and still accounts for 35% of the total unemployed. Nor has the labor force participation rate budged past the historically low levels that have defined the Great Recession and its long, dreary “recovery.” Prospects for working people are still grim, especially in the 24 states that have callously refused to expand Medicaid even as their residents struggle to get by.

Last month the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG) drew attention to another weak spot of the recent employment growth—a disproportionate number of the jobs the economy is creating are low-wage.  So it’s notable that another month of job growth coincides with the largest worker walkout in a campaign to raise wages in a high-profile low-wage sector.  Workers in fast food restaurants in 30 countries and 150 US cities walked off the job in a one-day strike, protesting low wages and rallying around the call for a $15 per hour wage in the industry.

The fast food campaign’s Fight for 15 message has resonated around the country. Seattle passed an ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, phased in for various sized businesses over three to seven years. In an interview on WNYC about home care in the Bronx, Carol Rodat of PHI PolicyWorks suggested that the way home care workers will achieve fair wages is to “do like what the fast food people do—demonstrate.”

The fact that a home care worker would join in the call to protest for a $15-per-hour wage is significant given recent trends in health care employment. In May, health care added 34,000 jobs, doubling the average growth for the prior 12 months, and hospital job growth was higher than it has been all year. However, hospital employment has been trending down while ambulatory health care settings, and especially home health providers, continue to drive growth in health care sector jobs. In 2012, hospitals added 73,000 jobs. That dropped to 9,800 in 2013 and we’ve yet to see a return to earlier levels of hospital employment.

Technology and demographics drives some of these changes. More procedures can be performed in outpatient settings, reducing inpatient hospital admissions and staffing needs. However, deliberate policy decisions are also driving the shift from large-scale hospital employment to employment across fragmented ambulatory settings, including home health. Medicare pay-for-performance metrics for hospitals include reducing readmissions and overall costs of care; Medicaid incentives for health plans include reducing hospitalizations for conditions that could have been treated in ambulatory settings. The overall goal of health care policy is to keep people out of hospitals.

While this policy goal is sound—hospital admissions are disruptive, costly and dangerous, so avoiding them when possible is laudable—they create a problem to which the economy has no obvious answer. Hospitals employ clinical workers but also large numbers of service and maintenance workers to serve patients staying for several days. Outpatient centers and physicians’ offices do not need a full-time staff of housekeepers and food service workers. We should not be making health policy based on preserving jobs, and many service jobs in hospitals are difficult, dirty, and dangerous.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a jobs policy that can complement our health care policies, a policy that acknowledges and responds to the likely drop in hospital employment.

One frequent criticism of the Fight for 15 workers, and workers like the home care providers in the Bronx who are inspired by the fast food campaign, is that low-wage jobs should be stepping stones, not careers.  Any news article on low-wage worker protests will include comments blaming the workers and excoriating them for demanding more pay from a low-skill job instead of putting in the work to climb the ladder to more prosperous employment.

Recent job reports have shown that this criticism is out of touch with reality. The economy we live in does not create enough good-paying jobs to allow for the kind of mobility implicit in the “stepping stone” story. A more realistic response is an active restructuring of the labor market by creating federally-funded living-wage jobs that serve unmet social needs, as proposed in the CPEG jobs program. A few dozen members of Congress understand that the private sector is not meeting the needs of the economy or society and have co-sponsored HR 1000, the 21st Century Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act. If your representative is not a co-sponsor, contact them to show your support for a federal jobs program and insist that they sign on.

Sharon_Post.jpgSharon Post is the director of the Center for Long-Term Care Reform at the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group.  Before joining Health and Medicine she worked for eight years for SEIU as a researcher. She is a member of the Chicago Political Economy Group. 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 26 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel,
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt,, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 29 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 52 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz,
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt,, 608-355-6568.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 13 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.