Our nation’s future depends on our ability to provide the largest segment of our labor force with stable, family-supporting work.

More than 65 million Americans toil in precarious, low-wage service class jobs, preparing and serving us our food, assisting us in stores, supporting our office and professional work, and taking care of our kids and aging parents. The service class is the largest class of Americans by far, making up about 45% of the entire workforce. In terms of the jobs they do and the economic functions they serve, in many ways, its members represent the 21st century analog of the old blue-collar working class. And just like we upgraded those once dirty, dangerous, and low-paid manufacturing jobs during the postwar years, we must now rebuild America’s middle class by turning service jobs work into higher-paid, family-supporting work.A new report released today by me and my Martin Prosperity Institute colleagues, Karen King and Charlotta Mellander, entitled Building 65 Million Good Jobs, outlines the size and scope of America’s service class, and describes how we can begin to upgrade their jobs.

The chart below shows the transformation of the American workforce over the past century or so. In the early 1900s, the working class made up nearly 60 percent of the American workforce. Today, it has declined to roughly a fifth of the workforce, while America’s two other major classes have surged—the highly-skilled and highly paid creative class and the even larger service class.

The changing structure of the American labor force, 1900-2010 (Martin Prosperity Institute)

Members of the service class make just $32,272 per year on average. That’s 30 percent less than the national average of $46,440 and less than half the $75,759 average for the creative class, who work in science and technology; business and management; arts, media, and culture; and healthcare, education, and law. The lowest paid members of the service class—the 16 million workers who toil in food service and personal care work—average less than $25,000 a year.

Service class work is disproportionately performed by women, who hold 62 percent of service class jobs, compared to less than half of all jobs. And the gender pay gap for service class work is substantial: service class women make just two-thirds of what service class men make.

Minorities also make up a disproportionate share of the service class. Half of Hispanic-Latino workers and 55 percent of black workers do service class jobs, compared to 45 percent of whites and 40 percent of Asians.

The service class varies considerably by geography, as the map below shows. Service class jobs make up more than half of all jobs in Orlando, Miami, San Antonio, Tampa, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Providence, Phoenix and New York, and a whopping 62 percent in Las Vegas, as the map below shows.
 

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Originally written by in City Lab