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About 44 percent of Charleston's workforce makes low wages, which is the same as the national average, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution. For some job categories, like retail sales, food preparation and food and beverage serving, more than three quarters of workers make low wages. File/AP

Low-wage workers make up a significant portion of today's workforce. A recent study about low-wage workers from the Brookings Institution found that there are more than 53 million people, or about 44 percent of workers ages 18 to 64 in the U.S., who make low wages. 

Charleston and Columbia, which were both included in the 373 U.S. metro areas studied, are about average when it comes to the percentage of workers who make low wages, said Brookings research analyst Nicole Bateman

In Charleston, there are about 128,000 low-wage workers, representing about 44 percent of the workforce. About 45 percent of Columbia's workforce earns low wages.

The share of workers who make low wages in Greenville and Spartanburg are close to national averages, too. But in Myrtle Beachmore than half of all workers make low wages, about 52.4 percent. Savannah's share of low-wage workers is also higher than most, about 49 percent. 

The number of low-wage workers varies considerably across different U.S. metro areas, the study found. Among the cities studied, low-wage workers' share of the workforce ranged from 30 to 62 percent of all workers. Low wage earners were particularly concentrated in smaller cities in the southern and western states. 

For this study, what was considered low-wage in a metro area varied with the cost of living. Wage thresholds ranged anywhere from $12.54 to $20.02 an hour. In Charleston, the low-wage threshold used was $15.39 an hour. Columbia's was slightly lower at $14.73, and for areas outside of South Carolina's major metros, it was set at $13.32. 

More than half of low-wage workers in the U.S. are in their prime working years, according to the study, between ages 25 and 50. That age group is also the most likely to be raising children. A little more than half are the only income earners in their families or provide a significant portion of their household's income. 

For several job types, at least three quarters of the workers earn low wages: retail sales, cooks and food prep workers, building cleaning and pest control workers and food and beverage servers.

Low-wage workers were separated into nine clusters based on age, educational attainment and student status. Based on national averages, some of these clusters were "overrepresented" in Charleston, Bateman found:

  • Workers aged 25 - 50 with some post-secondary education but no degree
  • Workers aged 25 - 50 with an associate degree or more
  • Workers aged 61 - 54 with an associate degree or more

Overall, low-wage workers in Charleston were more educated than low-wage workers nationally. More than one out of four has a post-secondary degree.

In Columbia, young workers aged 18 to 24 who are not in school and do not have a college degree make up a larger portion of the workforce there than they do nationally. The cluster of workers aged 25 to 50 with a high school diploma or less made up the largest share of the total workforce in both Columbia and Charleston. The same is true nationally.


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Openings, closings:

  • The opening of MUSC's new children's hospital was delayed to 2020
  • Mexican restaurant Minero is opening a new location on Johns Island.
  • New restaurants Cabana Burgers and Shakes and KISS Cafe are now serving in the Live Oak Square Shopping Center on Johns Island
  • Arts-and-crafts chain A.C. Moore is closing all of its remaining 145 stores.  
  • That Holiday Book Sale is this weekend at the Mount Pleasant library. 

Financial statement:

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.


“The U.S. economy drank a Red Bull in the form of a tax cut. And we’re now experiencing a decaffeinated economy as the stimulus wears off.” 

— Joey Von Nessen, economist at the University of South Carolina

During a 2020 economic forecast this week, Von Nessen said that South Carolina can expect to see growth slow. The tight labor market is a bottleneck for business growth, and the threat of trade wars could dampen new projects.

Other stuff you should know:

  • Redevelopment plans that include buildings of up to 18 stories have been OK'd by City Council for West Ashley's Citadel Mall. (Post and Courier)
  • Charleston has plans to foreclose on the Read Brothers Building on King Street since owners didn't pay the city for repairs. (Post and Courier
  • The former Charleston Naval Hospital, which is North Charleston's tallest building, may become a housing high-rise. (Post and Courier)
  • Boeing's chief engineer John Hamilton, who has been leading the company's response to the 737 Max crisis, is retiring. (Seattle Times)
  • Despite the current job boom, American men between the ages of 25 and 54 are less likely to be working than they once were. (NPR)

Sound smart at work:

Parking Meter night01.jpg (copy)

Charleston is offering its annual free parking pass for the holidays. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

"Hey boss, did you know you can get free parking in downtown Charleston during the holiday season?"

The city is offering its annual parking voucher which allows two hours of free parking in eight garages owned by the city or Charleston County. One voucher is allowed per vehicle, but there is no limit on how many times a voucher can be used. They're good through New Year's Day. Download one here

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Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.