Category Archives: Economic Inequality

Forty Years Of WOW – The War On Workers – In America

Here’s another dog-bites-man story, an economic tale of today’s America that only a Republican could love or ignore or feign surprise at. TPM’s Brian Beutler points us to a preview of the Economic Policy Institute’s forthcoming publication, “The State of Working America,” and the state is… not good. The preview, “The wedges between productivity and median compensation growth” by Lawrence Mishel, informs us that from 1948 (my birth year) to 2011, while worker productivity has gained 254.3% in a more or less straight-line increase, hourly compensation has gained only 113.1% in the same time period. The hourly compensation curve tracks the productivity curve up to the early 1970s, but then flattens out as wages have stagnated for four decades. See the linked EPI article for those graphs.

Another graph is more interesting. This one shows productivity gains from 1973 to 2011… more or less my working lifetime… about 80.4%, again in a more-or-less straight line… and median hourly compensation, by gender. Median male compensation has increased almost not at all… 0.1%. Overall median hourly compensation has increased only 10.7%… remember, this is in the face of an 80% productivity gain.

Average hourly compensation has grown by 39.2%, vastly more than median hourly compensation gains, which means most of the gains by both women and men have gone to higher-paid workers. Median female compensation has grown by only 33.2%, in other words, nowhere close to the average though well above the both-genders median. (I assume the much higher gains for women are because equal-pay laws have somewhat ameliorated the unconscionable underpayment of women in earlier decades.) Here is the graph:

 

I said at the beginning that this is a dog-bites-man story. If you are a working-class, working-age American, you scarcely need to be told that you are working harder and more hours while your personal economic situation is simply not improving. Of course there are exceptions, but remember the above graph deals in the median… the most typical numbers… and the average numbers. On the whole, all those productivity gains meant profit gains for your employers. Well and good; there’s nothing immoral about profit… unless it is not shared with the people who make it possible. And those are the workers in America who are just plain not getting a fair deal. We’ve doubled our productivity and gotten squat for our reward. That is wrong.

As someone once said on the ancient 1960s/1970s comedy TV show Laugh-In, “We upped our work production… up yours!” It was funnier before it became a true rendition of the attitude of the 1% toward the 99%.

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