FORTUNE -- July's report on the state of America's job market, released Friday, marked the 34th month in a row in which the economy created jobs at a slow and steady clip. This is better news than very few or no jobs created at all, but it's best to judge by quality vs. quantity.
While the economy generated 162,000 jobs last month, the bulk of those jobs is neither highly paid nor full-time work. This suggests why the economy isn't growing as fast as the pace of job creation. Here's a closer look:
Want fries with that?
Industry-wise, retail, as well as restaurants and bars, have accounted for the largest share of the job gains: In July, the retail industry added 47,000 jobs and 352,000 over the past 12 months. Within leisure and hospitality, employment in food services and drinking places rose by 38,000 in July and 381,000 over the year.
To be sure, there are more low-wage jobs in the economy overall than there are high-wage jobs. Nonetheless, low-wage jobs have made up more of the recent job gains than usual. Retail, restaurant, and bar workers make up about 22% of the overall workforce. But in July, those categories accounted for over 52% of the job growth.
"I don't think we are becoming an economy of retail and restaurant workers," says Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "But what is absolutely true is that low-wage jobs have had disproportionate growth in the economy."
All this makes for a troubling trend, given that consumer spending drives the U.S. economy: Whereas the average weekly pay of U.S. workers overall is $824, leisure jobs pay $349 a week, while retail pays only slightly more at $520 a week.
Good jobs are much harder to come by these days: Take manufacturing, for instance. We often hear that U.S. manufacturing could turn the U.S. economy around. Manufacturing jobs that pay an average of nearly $1,000 a week added just 6,000 jobs in July. The health care industry used to be the bright spot in an otherwise weak jobs market, but growth in that area is shrinking. So far, health care has added an average of 16,000 jobs a month, compared with an average monthly increase of 27,000 in 2012.
Less work to go around
A not-so-great job is indeed better than no job, but is part-time work any better? The number of people with part-time jobs who want to work full-time totaled 8.2 million in July, up slightly from the month before. And the number of people who landed part-time jobs in July was far larger than those who were hired as full-time workers, 170,000 vs. 90,000.
Part-time jobs generally offer less job security and few, if any, health and retirement benefits. And when workers aren't sure how much or where they might work tomorrow or next year, they're less likely to spend.
Wall Street firms may be using shady shipping schemes to manipulate the commodities market, or not.Stephen Gandel, senior editor - Jul 22, 2013 2:39 PM ET
As the Federal Reserve signals that it might finally be ready to hike rates, banks are likely in for a rude awakening.Jul 12, 2013 5:00 AM ET
A U.S. manufacturing executive ignited a firestorm after calling the French economy uncompetitive due to its unproductive labor force. He has a point.
By Cyrus Sanati
FORTUNE -- The explosive reaction in France to a letter penned by a little-known U.S. tire executive, which questioned the productivity of French workers, has quickly gone from comical to troubling. Instead of opening a discussion in the country as to the possible merits of MOREFeb 22, 2013 11:16 AM ET
If the CBO is right, you would be better off hiding your money under your mattress for the next two or three years than using it to buy a 10-year Treasury note today.Allan Sloan, senior editor-at-large - Feb 15, 2013 10:46 AM ET
Critics of Obama's minimum wage hike say it will make it harder for employers to hire. Not too long ago, some of the biggest employers actually supported higher wages.
FORTUNE – In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Obama promised (again) to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25, which would boost pay for the nation's cashiers, janitors, and other low-wage workers.
Judging by failed efforts in the past, MORENin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Feb 14, 2013 11:06 AM ET
Growth rates in India and the other large emerging economies are unlikely to stage a comeback this decade, argues a new book by Morgan Stanley's emerging markets equity head.Feb 12, 2013 10:18 AM ET
Who's going to feel the biggest squeeze? Though they get plenty of attention, it's not the wealthy or the middle class.Feb 7, 2013 9:24 AM ET
Unemployment is slowly falling, and job creation is creeping up.
FORTUNE -- For the past five years, joblessness has perhaps been the biggest thorn on the U.S. economy. The unemployment rate peaked at 10% in late 2009. Since then, it has only fallen to 7.7% as of November, suggesting the long slog is likely to continue into the New Year.
For 2013, economists widely agree the outlook for jobs will continue improving but MORENin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Jan 2, 2013 5:00 AM ET
It seemed like a great idea at the time: sweeping tax cuts that would never go away because of an endless economic boom. The day of reckoning has come.
FORTUNE -- What seems brilliant today can come back to bite you in the butt tomorrow when the world changes. That's my major takeaway from the fiscal cliff soap opera.
It's a lesson that Republican tax-cutting zealots are now learning, painfully, as their MOREAllan Sloan, senior editor-at-large - Dec 21, 2012 5:00 AM ET
|Instagram launches direct messaging|
|I work 4 jobs and I'm still struggling|
|Military retirees: You betrayed us, Congress|
|Will the market actually cheer Fed tapering?|
|500-page mortgage applications have become the new normal|