And while politicians from both parties tout training and education as a ladder to opportunity, “higher-skilled” jobs’ labor standards are actually on the same downward trajectory as others’. In a 2012 report, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that from 1979 to 2010, while the number of U.S. workers with advanced degrees nearly doubled, the percentage of workers whose jobs provide decent wages, health insurance, and retirement benefits declined. That was true for workers with college degrees as well as for those without them. The cause, argued authors John Schmitt and Janelle Jones, wasn’t “workers’ skills,” but rather “the loss of bargaining power” at work.
In other words – like the garment sweatshops of a century ago — what makes McDonald’s or Wal-Mart jobs bad isn’t that employees lack degrees. It’s that they lack leverage. The same problem faces workers doing comparatively glamorous work – from fashion models faced with wage theft, to Apple store specialists without health insurance.