Unskilled Labor

What Is Unskilled Labor?

"Unskilled labor" is an outdated term, once used to describe a segment of the workforce associated with a limited skill set or minimal economic value for the work performed. The correct term is low-wage labor.

According to the Center for Global Development the term unskilled and skilled were derived from institutions, politicians, and other interest groups based on the classifications a determination has been made as to who is and is not powerful in the labor market. Also, the idea that the unskilled labor force is characterized by lower educational attainment such as a high school diploma, GED, or lack thereof which typically results in lower wages, is also outdated.

Once characterized by lower educational attainment, such as a high school diploma, GED, or lack thereof, it was assumed unskilled laborers made less money. However, in the 21st century, there are jobs for high school graduates or those without a college degree.

Key Takeaways

  • Unskilled labor is an antiquated term.
  • Those in the workforce with limited skills aren't necessarily unskilled.
  • It is possible to find a job with a GED or high school diploma.
  • Some jobs call for a strict set of skills or degrees, but it is possible to find well-paying work without them.
  • Unskilled laborers were once thought of as workers whose daily production tasks did not depend on technical abilities or skills.

Understanding Unskilled Labor

Again, unskilled labor is an outdated term, but low-wage laborers provide a significant part of the overall labor market, performing daily production tasks that do not depend on technical abilities or skills. Menial or repetitive tasks are typical unskilled labor positions. Jobs that can be fully learned in less than 30 days often fall into the low-wage labor category. Low-wage labor jobs may be held by individuals with less education or experience than others. When this is the case, employers may take advantage of these workers, offering low to minimum wage as pay.

When the term is used to describe a person or employee completing the tasks, low-wage labor refers to the lack of education or experience the person may have. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 although many cities and states have a higher minimum wage for workers.

Certain semiskilled jobs, such as administrative assistants, can require advanced skill sets that lead them to be categorized as skilled instead of semiskilled positions.

Related Terms

All jobs from babysitter to biology professor require a skill set. However, some jobs and careers require higher education, special certifications, or a specified number of years of experience. Entry-level positions can be low-wage jobs with rising salaries, as more experience is gained. Some low-wage jobs only pay federal minimum wage, which does not often increase on the job, despite the use of skills and experience of the low-wage worker. Rising skills and pay may depend on the employer and the position.

Jobs that call for semi-skilled or mid-skilled workers, typically require a level of education or knowledge in a particular field, or experience and training in order to complete the job's tasks successfully.

Skilled labor may refer to persons or positions requiring a very specialized skill set or advanced degree in order to complete some of the assigned tasks.

What Is Minimum Wage?

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

What Does Skilled Labor Mean?

All jobs take some sort of skill to hold them but skilled labor usually refers to positions which needs a very specific skill set to a obtain such as computer coding or plumbing skills, or a teaching certificate.

How Many States Have Higher Minimum Wages?

There are 30 states plus Washington D.C., that offer workers a wage above the federal minimum wage.

The Bottom Line

The term "low-skilled" worker is an antiquated term, not reflective of the present day. Low-wage workers are not low-skilled workers. Low-wage workers may have plenty of skills, but often the low-wage jobs do not provide a liveable wage.

Article Sources
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  1. Center for Global Development. "There's No Such Thing as a “Low”-Skill Worker."

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Minimum Wage Laws."

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Minimum Wage Laws."

  4. National Conference of State Legislatures. "State Minimum Wages."

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