The AP-NORC Center conducted two surveys to gauge the experiences and perspectives of lower-wage workers. A sample of 1,606 workers earning $35,000 or less annually were interviewed last summer, while a companion poll of 1,487 employers of such workers was conducted from November through January.
About 65 percent of the jobs the U.S. economy added since the recession ended in June 2009 were lower-wage ones, according to an analysis of monthly Labor Department employment numbers by Moody's Economics.
Patrick Clements, 61, of Blue Springs, Mo., works as a security guard making $12 an hour. He took the job after he was laid off from AT&T, where he was a management-level employee earning a much higher salary.
Clements said he's not aware of any training or educational opportunities at his company, and at his age, he's not hopeful that other job training programs could help him get any higher-paying work.
"I'm so old that nobody's going to hire me anyway," he said. "They say it's illegal to discriminate by age, but man, I was looking and it happens."
Eve Weinbaum, director of the Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, said most of the research shows that for the vast majority of low-wage workers, "there is not much chance that job training will lead to better jobs and higher incomes, simply because the higher-paying jobs are not there."
Low-wage workers are even less apt to use government programs that could help them get new training or find better jobs, according to the survey. Only 18 percent have used Pell grants, a student aid program, and less than 10 percent say they have used any other government-funded program, such as one-stop employment centers or welfare-funded training services.