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In the Media | July 2014

Flat? Actually Many Wages Have Been Declining

By Jon Talton
The Seattle Times, July 7, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

It has been well documented that wages adjusted for inflation for most workers have been stagnant since the mid-1970s. The one exception: from the late 1990s until 2002. This is a key driver of rising inequality. But researchers at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College have added a new twist.

The labor force is aging and becoming better educated. Workers are also putting off retirement, having been hammered by the bubble collapses of 2001 and 2008. The result: real wages for many workers likely have been declining between 2002 and 2012, especially for those with less than a college degree. But a degree may not alone guarantee future results. “Going forward, as baby boomers retire, the average experience in the labor force will decline, pulling average wages down.”

Speaking of the labor market:
 The latest JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover) is out. May is little changed from April. Especially disconcerting is the low level of “voluntary separations,” which would indicate workers feel confident in finding a new job and demand for labor is rising. But there are 2.1 times as many job seekers as openings. This is true across every industry. Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute goes into detail here.

And furthermore:
 Seattle-based Payscale, which surveys cash compensation for full-time, private industry employees, released its second-quarter index. Real wages in the index are down about 8 percent from 2006. “Annual U.S. wage growth was 1.8 percent last quarter, but inflation in (the second quarter) was the highest it’s been in three years,” said Katie Bardaro, lead economist at PayScale. “As a result, the high inflation essentially wiped out wage growth and consumers experienced no real wage growth in terms of their actual purchasing power.”

Consumer prices increased 2.1 percent over the 12 months ending in May. So inflation is very subdued — too subdued to really get the recovery going. The big problem is the weak labor market, so employers can hold down wages. After all, they have choices. Many workers don’t.

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