The US workforce is the most productive, best educated in history and unemployment is at an all-time low, but wages are stagnant


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/15/monopsony-vs-solidarity.html


#2

Who need wages when you have Freedom? At least by those communistical union bosses aren’t taking away your Right to Work! Did you know socialists don’t even have that? The government forces them to sit around collecting disability and social security and going to free government elementary schools!


#3

Not only in the US. It’s a similar situation here in Germany. Highly productive workforce, massive surplus in national income, wages at all-time low, rising poverty. It’s the 1900s all over again.


#4

Now…let’s look at executive compensation… ruffles through paperwork

Oh…That is at an ALL TIME HIGH, and is ridiculously higher than ever before? Says here executive compensation has not just gone up in the last 30-40 years, but it has gone up exponentially as compared to anything and everything else!

hmmmm. who’d have thunk.


#5

It gets tricky… US civilian population survey will reach 20% senior citizens rate for the first time ever late this year. 19.2% of all seniors work, and nearly 4 million reach retirement age/ join retirement ranks each year. Most of these are at or near the top of their earnings game so, the get replaced by people earning less. And they get replaced by younger workers with far less seniority, fewer vacation days, less (where applicable) 401K match, and cheaper health care costs. So companies are really raking in the bucks, pushing people harder, demanding more unpaid overtime and making life harder and harder for those who remain.


#6

As the labor pool has spread to pretty much the entire world, I would think globalization has played a larger role.

And I don’t necessarily think it’s a horrible thing. Living standards here, on average, are pretty good. Why not spread the work around that will lift up living standards in countries that are behind. I feel like this is an area in which desire to stick it to those rich bastards is less important than raising global living standards.


#7

Wage suppression is even worse in those countries.


#8

I hear what you’re saying but the amount of people living in poverty here in the USA is staggering. The amount of us who have carved out a solid middle class life by being worker bees is becoming a smaller and smaller number. And to a certain extent we’ve done this to our selves. Thomas Frank continues to be right.


#9

Indeed, but I’d argue that raising a wage from $100/year to $3,000/year (where the same job in America would be $30,000 year) is a massive life changing difference, suppressed or not.

I’ll go with my more basic explanation against complete globalization and open borders - privation close to me means a whole lot more to me than massively dire poverty far away. Yes, it makes me a selfish greed-head, but it has the advantage of me not having to come up with ethical justifications as to why I care more about Canadians earning $20K than people elsewhere desperately trying to survive on $100. I’m simply not that ethical.


#10

I’m just happy to have a job.


#11

Just to add to your comment, the numbers show them “raking in the bucks” with blinding clarity. In the 30 years after World War II average pay for non-managerial workers rose pretty much in line with productivity growth (productivity grew by 97% and wages grew by 91%). From 1973 to 2013 we saw a productivity rise of 74% but wages for that same group only rose by 9%. It was even worse for low wage workers who saw a 5% drop in pay over the same period.

On the other hand, the top 1% of wage earners saw an increase of 138%, with the average CEO in the United States earning 296 times what the a typical worker makes.

One last interesting data point. The rise in income for the top 10% of wage earners mirrors the decline in union membership.

Oh, and as Mark Blythe has warned, “The Hamptons is not a defensible position”.

(all data from https://www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation/)


#12

It’s almost like the economists lied to us. Fancy that


#13

Here’s a great article on “the speedup” in the American workplace. Webster’s defines speedup as “an employer’s demand for accelerated output without increased pay,”


#14

I have never bought this argument, “Workers in rich countries need to eat it because developing country workers benefit more from their jobs”. Capitalists are not doing this to help the poor, they are doing it to bid down the cost of labor globally.

This is the same argument for right-to-work laws, “gig” economies, etc. - “We’re just helping people get work, what’s wrong with that?”

In point of fact the way this labor has spread has been extremely anti-worker - see this article, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-trade_zone - this is capital taking advantage of shitty labor laws and corrupt politicians in other countries to stick it to workers, everywhere. “Globalization” of this sort is not designed to - and won’t - produce development, it will produce the same shitty jobs everywhere. It is designed for capital flight in the face of improving labor bargaining power.

What WILL help workers, here and everywhere else, is increased labor bargaining power - that means rather than pitting all workers against each other in the same labor pool, workers be allowed to organize for rights, be guaranteed safe, humane working conditions, living wages, etc. This, unfortunately, is not part of “globalization” as we’ve seen it.


#15

Thing is, unemployment is actually near a record high, and economic indicators have become divorced from the reality of life for the lower-middle classes and below:

http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/unemployment-charts

That’s why wages have stagnated. It doesn’t matter how much you massage the economic data, when someone advertises a job and receives 200 applicants, at least 50 of which can do the job, they can afford to low-ball the salary they offer. And when governments punish their citizens for being unable to find jobs that don’t exist, the desperation is obvious.

Anyone that tells you unemployment is down and the economy is doing well is not in touch with the majority.


#16

You’re not “unemployed”, you’re just not participating in the labor force.


#17

They’ve screwed with the inflation rate calculations as well, by messing with the CPI to make it seem as though inflation is lower than it is and not eating everyone’s nest eggs.

Inflation calculated using the pre-1981 method shows it running just about 10%


#18

Of course they aren’t - but then nobody is claiming that they are. The ethical question is do we have the right to force companies to favour our citizens over foreigners. In other words are foreign livelihoods worth less than native ones. And the answer has generally been all human lives have the same intrinsic worth, so we don’t have an ethical right.

So then we come to the next question. Do we care about being ethical more than we care about conditions in our country. I can’t answer for you, but for me, the answer is no, I care more about my local comfort (which involves not being surrounded by poverty that I can see) than I care about being ethical and treating all human beings equally, regardless of nationality.

It also avoids the messy optics of “you people need to starve for your own good until you have the same institutions that we do.” If we’re not going to let them have jobs that they desperately want, let’s not patronize them by telling them it’s for their own good. I’m unethical, but even that’s too much for me.

I think that’s the crux. Until such point that there is actual competition for jobs by businesses for jobs, it’s like trying to push water up the hill to get wages to rise.

However, sometimes you just have to push the water up the hill. It’s not easy, but I can get water on the top floor of my house, regardless of what water ‘wants to do’ naturally.


#19

So now that we’ve been pushing water and money uphill for about 40 years, that trickle down effect should kick in any day now, right? How much more do we need to push up to the top?


#20

There is a lot of underemployment, too: especially involuntary part-time workers who would like more hours, but are being held back by employers. Many low-wage employers prefer part-time labor for their own convenience, to have an elastic labor force, and to avoid paying benefits.