Wages Again? Yup. It’s a Swamp Out There, So Let’s Review the Facts

Every other day, Mr. Trump and his cronies tell us that wages have increased since their great American policies began. And every other month, reporters discover a wage surge. Recently, you could have read that average hourly pay had risen 4.9% or 2.9% or some other substantial number. Reporters have been searching for a wage upswing for a long time, and especially now that unemployment seems low and demand for workers high. But unemployment is not so low, as is apparent in the alternative rate published by the National Jobs for All Coalition.

Sometimes reporters don’t bother to talk about real wages, that is, after the effects of inflation are accounted for. They also tend to talk about the whole non-farm, private sector work force, which gives too much weight to the success of the minority that is doing well. We should be talking about rank-and-file workers. When we do, we find that real hourly wages went up–hold your breath–0.1% from December of 2016 through December of 2017. That’s one-tenth of one percent for a year. How about January of 2017 through January of 2018? Still just 0.1%.

Thanks, Don. On Valentine’s Day, the Vice-Liar in Waiting, Mike Pence, said that 4.5 million workers were getting raises because of administration policies. But the employed work force is 155 million and two-thirds of them are not doing well. The losers include Trump’s white working-class supporters. Their pay is lagging and they are getting less than their share of new jobs; sometimes college graduates are getting jobs they used to get. Overall, wages for people in the top 40% are substantially higher than they were in the 1970s, but wages for the bottom 60% are about where they were 45 years ago.

Obviously wage stagnation is not just Donald Trump’s fault. At least Trump talked about it. But he’s done nothing to fix it. Will his white working-class supporters get tired of the circuses and look for something real?  And where will they find it? Will Democrats across the country in this election year promise to work for a $15 federal minimum wage? They did not do so in 2016. It’s the very least they should be doing on the wage front right now.


Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Real Earnings–January 2018, 2; Robert Shapiro, “The New Economics of Jobs is Bad News for Working-Class Americans–and Maybe for Trump,” Brookings, January 16, 2018; The Hamilton Project, Thirteen Facts about Wage Growth (September, 2107), Fact 2.


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Frank Stricker is Emeritus Professor of History, California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written about poverty and has just finished American Unemployment: A New History, Explanations, Remedies. He is a member of the National Jobs for All Coalition.

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