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The ranks of the working poor are swelling as low-paid, unskilled, insecure jobs with few career prospects increase. Researchers at the University of Sydney Business School say that, as manufacturing contracts, Australia is at risk of mimicking the United States as it moves towards a polarised society with highly paid people at the top supported by a large underbelly of workers in jobs that are unsustainable and unsatisfying. “It’s becoming very difficult,” businesss school professor Chris Warhurst says. “For workers at the bottom of the ladder to aspire to better paid, more satisfying middle-ranking jobs or do an apprenticeship, become qualified tradespeople and move into jobs that were once highly desirable.” A decline in the trade union movement, which once ensured career opportunities were maintained, is contributing to the problem which a job quality conference will examine this week.