The Metropolitan Geography of Low-Wage Work


By Jane R. Williams and Alan Berube – We define “low-wage work” as occupations in which, nationally, at least one-quarter of all workers make less than $10/hour.

Some types of low-wage workers are more likely to live in suburbs than others. While only 63 percent of workers (2.3 million) employed in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations are suburban, 71 percent of workers (7.4 million) in sales and related occupations—the largest low-wage occupational sector in metropolitan America—live in the suburbs, evidence that most of America’s retail jobs and workforce have moved to suburbia.

Low-Wage Occupational Sectors

  • Sales and related occupations: Cashiers, retail salespersons, telemarketers, counter and rental clerks
  • Food preparation and serving related occupations: Fast food and counter workers, Food preparation workers, dishwashers, cafeteria attendants
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations: Janitors and cleaners, maids, landscaping and grounds-keeping workers
  • Personal care and service occupations: Ushers, lobby attendants and ticket takers, hairdressers, baggage porters and bellhops, childcare workers, personal care aides
  • Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations: Farmworkers and laborers, logging workers, fishers, agricultural equipment operators

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