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earnings
It's no surprise to anyone who has been paying even cursory attention that the U.S. economy has for quite some time been slipping in regards to middle-class Americans. While there are many factors involved in why this isn't being redressed, one of them is that too many people view the middle class as standing outside the working class and therefore not in need of working-class solutions, like, for example, strong unions.

The chart above, created by Doug Short, illustrates graphically a key effect of how the economy is failing to provide the kind of remuneration a large percentage of Americans in the private sector were receiving not so long ago. The numbers come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been collecting these data for the past 50 years.

If you look at nominal dollars, average hourly earnings have been on a steady climb for the entire period. But once inflation is accounted for, it's not a pretty picture.

Short points out that there's another ugly trend: the average hours of work per week. These declined from around 39 hours in the mid-1960s to 33 hours when the Great Recession officially ended five years ago. "The post-recession recovery has seen a disappointingly trivial 0.7 bounce (that's 42 minutes)," he writes.

Jump below the fold for more charts and discussion.

hours of non-supervisory workers
Mesh these two together and you get a third chart: "Hypothetical Real Weekly Earnings." In other words, it's what a worker earning the average wage per hour and working the average number of hours per week would earn weekly:
Results? The hypothetical annual earnings of the average non-supervisory production work are $35,497. That's down 16.4 percent from 42 years ago. Short says:
In the charts above, I've highlighted the presidencies during this timeframe. My purpose is not necessarily to suggest political responsibility, but rather to offer some food for thought. I will point out that the so-called supply-side economics popularized during the Reagan administration (aka "trickle-down" economics), wasn't very friendly to production and nonsupervisory employees.
No kidding.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:38 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The trend mostly matches the decline in unions (37+ / 0-)

    while jobless recoveries got more and more common and extreme with the more free trade agreements.

    "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

    by gjohnsit on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:45:44 PM PDT

    •  Notice It Decoupled Before Reagan. (9+ / 0-)

      Democratic Party became conservative pretty much after LBJ.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 01:20:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, but do you see how the difference really took (12+ / 0-)

        off at around 1982? Productivity takes a meteoric rise, while  compensation remains flat. Slight improvement in the late 90's, but then back to flat line.

        "We the People of the United States...." -U.S. Constitution

        by elwior on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 01:32:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, and it took one of the largest private debt (0+ / 0-)

          bubbles in history to generate those 4 years of a good economy between 1997-2001. Thats what happens when the Govt thinks private debt growth instead of deficits are the primary means by which we should expand the money supply and those GDP growth:

          http://static.seekingalpha.com/...

          "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens. The gold standard ended on August 15, 1971, its time we start acting like it. If we can afford full employment killing Germans, we can afford full employment during peace-time.

          by Auburn Parks on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 06:19:00 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What on earth are you talking about ? (0+ / 0-)

            Number one: Clinton's slashing of the federal deficit had just a little bit to do with the booming economy.  This lead to investor confidence being restored.  So what's your point: that Clinton shouldn't have reduced the federal debt ?  Or that he should have somehow prevented Americans from buying homes, starting businesses or investing in the stock market ?

            Number two: your link goes to a chart with no explanation or context.  It doesn't even identify who or what is posting.  ("static.seekingalpha" is not exactly a household name.)  It seems a little odd to see this kind of data divorced from any frame of reference.  It's kind of like the old George Carlin joke: "And for you sports fans, here's some partial scores: 15, 42, and 3."

            Number three: Based on the information you cite, your statement is wrong.  The largest private debt bubble in history did NOT take place between 1997 and 2001.  According to your own chart, during those years the debt ratio increased 17%, going from 175 percent of GDP to ~210.  However, the debt ratio from 2001 - 2009 increased nearly twice as much, going from 210% to 300% (before dropping to 260% over the next two years).

            •  This statement is logically incoherent: (0+ / 0-)

              "Clinton's slashing of the federal deficit had just a little bit to do with the booming economy.  This lead to investor confidence being restored. "

              What evidence do you have for this? I don't put a whole lot of stock in the expectations fairy. You have no data that supports your claim here. Which is the same claim right winger use to justify "expansionary austerity".

              This is a good example of the adage, "If you don't get the accounting right, you can't get thee economics right"

              Spending = Income

              Govt spending = Non-Govt Income
              Govt deficit (net) spending = Non-Govt surplus

              This is accounting 101, and the burden of proof is on you to explain how reducing the yearly surplus of the private sector is supposed to lead to more growth?

              And yes, the Govt should have rules against overly risky lending done by banks. Govt should make rules that require lenders to actually hold their loans so that they have an incentive to make good loans and not package thousands of junk mortgages into MBS and CDO.

              I clearly indicated the chart was showing private debt levels, and you can clearly see the axis labeled % of GDP. Just google "US Private debt to GDP"

              If you don't believe that source, how about the Fed, you can do the ratio to GDP conversions on your own:

              https://research.stlouisfed.org/...=

              You must have a hard time reading, I said:

              "Yeah, and it took ONE of the largest private debt
              bubbles in history to generate those 4 years of a good economy between 1997-2001.

              And even with that said you are wrong:
              It went from approx. 175% to 225%

              "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens. The gold standard ended on August 15, 1971, its time we start acting like it. If we can afford full employment killing Germans, we can afford full employment during peace-time.

              by Auburn Parks on Tue Jun 24, 2014 at 07:41:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  And lets not leave out these little inconvenient (0+ / 0-)

              historical facts from your, 'budget surpluses => investor confidence => booming economy' logic chain:

              http://www.epicoalition.org/...

              "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens. The gold standard ended on August 15, 1971, its time we start acting like it. If we can afford full employment killing Germans, we can afford full employment during peace-time.

              by Auburn Parks on Tue Jun 24, 2014 at 07:54:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  The deregulation binge (5+ / 0-)

        started under Carter and the Democrats in 1978.

        "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

        by gjohnsit on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 02:27:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It decoupled when the Dollar was decoupled (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Square Knot

        …from gold by Nixon.

        •  FDR took us off the gold standard (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          delver

          not Nixon.

        •  Technically, the "gold standard" of the bretton (0+ / 0-)

          woods (1946-1971) era was for international transactions. As the commenter below notes, FDR took us off the Gold standard domestically in 1934 in order to deficit spend our way to prosperity through WWII.

          "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens. The gold standard ended on August 15, 1971, its time we start acting like it. If we can afford full employment killing Germans, we can afford full employment during peace-time.

          by Auburn Parks on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 06:21:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Bingo! (0+ / 0-)

        They colluded with the Repukes for two decades in preventing any increase in the minimum wage.

    •  I see the beginnings of a great research project (8+ / 0-)

      in these charts. I'm fairly sure its been done before but comparing them with the timelines of the decline in union membership and the rise of right to work (for much less) laws might show the downward trend in real wages to correlate nicely as a trailing trend. More interesting might be a state by state examination. Nationally a correlation is very obvious but causation is a more difficult case to make. Maybe a finer grained examination, state by state, would make a better argument.

      The real problem, however, is making the case to the average person. They know the system doesn't work for them and that their lives are becoming more difficult but have no idea why beyond illegal immigrants stealing their jobs, lazy minorities who would rather collect unemployment & welfare instead of working, union thugs threatening fine corporate institutions, government takeovers of ___ (fill in the blank), the highest taxes rates in human history, blah blah blah..... Show most of them these graphs and they'll start yelling about 'Murica (Hell Yes!) going socialist or be asleep in seconds.

      Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

      by VTCC73 on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 01:29:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The invisible hand of zombie Reagan. (14+ / 0-)

    Let's throw healthcare costs on top of that -- and we can blame Nixon for some of that, too.

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 12:58:33 PM PDT

  •  Except for Carter, every Dem POTUS did... (4+ / 0-)

    ...better better for average workers.

    But for the Repug base the priorities are different because they are racist, intolerant or libertarian.  Worker pay and jobs are not something high on their lists.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 02:02:47 PM PDT

  •  At some point in the 80's I believe, "consultants" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, Catherine R, Eric Nelson

    started being hired by corporations..... in what I'd call a rigging scheme whereby they all approved of each others' higher and higher executive wages, and once that ball was rolling it went crazy. At the same time, from around the same time, workers wages began to decline in real terms. And the corporate bigwigs never looked back. They all told each other, yes, we do deserve to reap all the profits without giving out more to the real workers who make our business work. It  was a sh*t0ss scheme then and is now all the more.

    Perhaps the workers need some consultants to tell the executives that it has to start back to an equation like we used to have when workers could actually afford to buy things.

    "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

    by Gorette on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 02:23:20 PM PDT

  •  "We" Are Not All Crony Capitalists (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, Meteor Blades, Eric Nelson, a2nite

    Neil Irwin is trying to implicate the rest of us in his desire to subsidize Boeing and other big corporations through the Export-Import Bank.
    There are two points worth noting on Irwin's argument. First, it goes directly against free trade 101. Remember how we call autoworkers and steelworkers Neanderthal protectionists if they support tariffs or quotas to keep their jobs? The argument that is the basis for dismissing these workers' efforts at protecting their livelihoods is the same argument that would be used against the Ex-Im Bank. (Other countries provide subsidies to their auto and steel industry also. In the standard trade models it doesn't matter.)
    When Irwin tells us that we have to be crony capitalists "whether we like it or not," why don't we also have to be crony protectors of workers' livelihoods? It seems that there is a very fundamental inconsistency here. When it comes to business interests we are prepared to throw the economics textbook theory in the garbage, but when the question is worker's jobs, that textbook is the bible.

    http://www.nytimes.com/...

    You Don't Happen To Make It. You Make It Happen !

    by jeffrey789 on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 02:23:35 PM PDT

  •  A lot of this looks like CPI adjustment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Punditus Maximus, Cat Servant

    Particularly the sharp adjustments seen in the 70's and 2009.

    Also, there's the rather odd result that it looks like these workers had a better time under GWB than Clinton (and if anything, after this recession things are even better?!)

  •  Productivity will continue to climb. (9+ / 0-)

    Some of that productivity is using robots and computers instead of workers.

    Non-human productivity will continue to trend. At some point, there will be little demand for workers. Necessities will reach sustainability -- produced without production workers. Not everyone needs to work.

    We need to get ahead of this reality and establish a national base salary for all citizens -- decoupled from "work."

    •  thank god you and i and a few others see this (5+ / 0-)

      there will never, ever again be enough work unless climate change screws the environment to the point that we cannot produce food.

      the irony is that we have reached utopia.  we can have it all and turn people free to invent and create a better and better world.

      instead, we have a one percent who just want to be first and have more and more than they can ever, ever use.

      it turns out to be about power and the fantasies about what power gets you.

      instead of recognizing we are on the verge of utopia, we start wars and use propaganda to convince our youth that dystopia is all they can expect.  

      •  Albert Einstein struggled with this, too. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Glen The Plumber, YucatanMan, elwior

        Anyone with the brain power to run the scenario can see where it goes. The US is still run like a corporate plantation, which our compromised and obsolete constitution permits -- so it will be hard for Americans to get their minds around this before it's too late. But more and more developed post-industrial nations are moving the appropriate direction of national salaries.

        Utopia is the end goal, after all. Hell is what happens after you die.

      •  Yes, its called the paradox of productivity (0+ / 0-)

        (inside some MMT circles). Which basically means that capitalists our so productive, that they will never need sustained full employment in order to produce the level of output that Consumers are capable of buying.

        Therefore, we will need more direct employment programs funded by the Dollar sovereign, and perhaps a Job Guarantee, or Basic Income Guarantee.

        "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens. The gold standard ended on August 15, 1971, its time we start acting like it. If we can afford full employment killing Germans, we can afford full employment during peace-time.

        by Auburn Parks on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 06:24:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  If Democrats were *actually* proud liberals (0+ / 0-)

          instead of allowing themselves to be embarrassed into a sort of slightly-right-of-center Republicanism that Republicans like to unironically call "socialistic facism", this sort of thing would be broached on a national stage, as well as many other sensible progressive ideas.  Instead, we find ourselves losing ground on everything our proud liberal parents and grandparents won for us, whether it's the slow suffocation of social security & medicare, the destruction of ACORN under a supposedly democratic president (just because the Republicans said mean things about it), or the erosion of our right to choose and the sanctity of our bodies.

          Where are the proud liberals to pull us back from a very conservative, far-right center?

    •  Actually, there's quite a bit of work that needs (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pluto, Eric Nelson, sponson

      to be done to get everybody up to a decent quality of life. The nature of work as well as the economy will have to change someday from consumer driven to needs driven.

      "We the People of the United States...." -U.S. Constitution

      by elwior on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 03:15:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm particularly concerned about, (5+ / 0-)

      folks who drive for a living. The technology for driver-less cars and trucks is almost ready, and when it hits, it'll render millions of workers instantly obsolete.

      Cab drivers, long-haul truckers and bus drivers could disappear as career options. And quite soon.

    •  less demand right now (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Meteor Blades, eleming

      Which is why hours are falling.  Just look at checking out at the grocery store.  When I was a kid every product was individually priced, the cashier rung up each item, and who knows how many people it took to manage inventory.  Now checkout happens at least twice as fast as it did.  And because of bar codes you can get away with much less competence.  So all the productivity gains goes to the bottom line or executive salary, none to the cashier. And many times I check myself out.

      So yes, we do have to value human time at a minimum, and pay accordingly.  We also need to get out of this idea that there is certain amount of time we need to work.  A $15 dollar minimum wage at 30 hours a week will bring home almost $2,000 a month, that is like 50% more than 40 hours a week at the current minimum wage.

      And less hours will in many cases mean that more people have jobs.  I am ok with giving governement checks to those who can't really find good employment, but I would rather use the money we already handout in corporate welfare to insure that people are working.

      She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing. -Kurt Vonnegut Life is serious but we don't have to be - me

      by lowt on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 06:32:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is the big jump at the end of GWB administration (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    in wages and hypothetical real weekly earnings an artifact of mass layoffs of marginal and low seniority workers as the economy crashed?

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 03:18:31 PM PDT

    •  Probably more the COL drop (0+ / 0-)

      from the crash in real estate prices. Those of us who still had jobs did remarkably well.

      •  Speak for yourself. (0+ / 0-)

        Unless you are "living" to buy houses, I haven't seen the COL drop at all. I certainly haven't gotten any raises, either, unless you count the negative ones I received. Rents, by the way, have been rising dramatically since then, too.

        "Lone catch of the moon, the roots of the sigh of an idea there will be the outcome may be why?"--from a spam diary entitled "The Vast World."

        by bryduck on Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 09:18:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  And what may be impossible to chart (6+ / 0-)

    is the way that non-hourly workers are being just sucked dry.

    I have a friend (thankfully sh just got a better job) who has been working what seems like endless hours in her management level job.  I've heard the same from a friend of mine (she's retired) one of whose sons has a management level job.

    Thx/sh

  •  Le Monde, article 2008 (4+ / 0-)

    In October 2008, responding to the “financial crisis”, Alain Badiou wrote the following for Le Monde:

    “Can we sing the praises of a “democracy” whose leaders do the bidding of private financial appropriation with such impunity that they would shock Marx himself, who nevertheless already defined governments, a hundred and sixty years ago, as “the agents of capital”? The ordinary citizen must “understand” that it is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but that it is imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks’ financial hole? We must somberly accept that no one imagines any longer that it’s possible to nationalize a factory hounded by competition, a factory employing thousands of workers, but that it is obvious to do so for a bank made penniless by speculation?”….

    Alain Badiou, Le Monde, 10/17/2008, translated from “De quel réel cette crise est-elle le spectacle?” (“What is the Reality to Which this Crisis is Specatacle?

    You Don't Happen To Make It. You Make It Happen !

    by jeffrey789 on Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 04:37:56 PM PDT

  •  Those charts make it clear as can be (6+ / 0-)

    Also since it was commented on above. As union membership declined due in large part to republican right to work for less attacks and union busting over the decades with the propaganda that goes with it; the wealth of workers, that share of what their labor produced tracks directly with the "conservative" movement assault on organized labor and membership decline
    As union membership decreases, middleclass income shrinks

    Thx MB

      - hot-listed

  •  Many of those workers voted for their boss; (0+ / 0-)

    too bad for them and us.

    I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

    by a2nite on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 05:00:12 AM PDT

  •  by funneling most (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfdunphy

    if not all of the resources to the top 1 or 3 % or whatever number you want to put on it and starving the so called 99% you are also starving the economy and guaranteeing the failure of our economic system and a collapse of capitalism as we know it.

    whether that is a bad thing only time will tell but one thing is for sure the days of wine and roses for the economically elite are numbered and their greed will come back to haunt and destroy them eventually.

    all great powers are usually defeated or destroyed from within and our fate will be no different imho.

  •  Wal-Mart is reportedly calling in workers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    to work 4 hour shifts .... and people are doing it ....

  •  just cause I guess I am stupid, but.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    why do the first few comments not have the rec button and then after a few it appears.

  •  This is by design. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    delver

    In the late 60s, early 70s, the elites who got Richard Nixon elected were scared because wages were rising at a rapid pace. The plan was to put in policies that would slow and then reverse the wage gains workers had experienced since World War 2.

    Part of the plan was dropping the gold standard. Other parts included union-busting, deregulation, and the rise of outsourcing (see: Nixon, China, 1972).

    The plan worked. Much to the detriment of all of us little people.

    Obi Ben Ghazi to House Republicans: "Use the Farce."

    by edg on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 07:39:19 PM PDT

  •  Working less is NOT a bad thing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, delver, ban nock

    Lower wages is.

  •  If you don't own the company: (0+ / 0-)

    You're working class.

    too many people view the middle class as standing outside the working class and therefore not in need of working-class solutions, like, for example, strong unions.

    The long memory is the most radical idea in this country." Utah Phillips 1935 - 2008

    by Grey Fedora on Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 11:21:53 PM PDT

  •  There has also been an amazing disregard (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    delver

    for what laws protecting workers still exist. The last 2 private sector jobs I had both used unpaid time at work to make the job appear to pay a decent wage.

    A small engineering place near Philadelphia hired me as a temp to do drafting of machine brass parts, for a standard 8 hour day. On my first day, I prepared to leave after 8 hours of work, only to find no one else was leaving...it developed they were paying people for 8 hours and making them work for 10 hours... I left shortly after I established that.

    I went back to college in my late 40's to get away from that type of work, and found a summer job at an addictions counseling place- for my Social Work degree- that paid per hour for counseling...but never told me I was expected to be unpaid for all the non-contact time - paperwork, etc - spent in that job, which effectively cut the rate of pay by 50%.

    I later found that people doing social work type jobs  for private agencies are routinely underpaid and expected to be idealistic about that.

  •  Great chart Blades. But you forgot to include the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eleming

    unemployment rate. When you do that you see the two inexorably linked since 1980. With real wages only increasing as unemployment approaches and gets below 5%.

    Unfortunately, due to our terrible economic right wig policies that think Govt deficits are actually bad for the economy, which Dems agree with and support, we've only had this unemployment rates of 5% or below for 7 years out of the last 33 (1980), for those keeping track, thats only 21% of the time:

    https://research.stlouisfed.org/...=

    "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens. The gold standard ended on August 15, 1971, its time we start acting like it. If we can afford full employment killing Germans, we can afford full employment during peace-time.

    by Auburn Parks on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 06:16:23 AM PDT

  •  Terrific, particularly the last where you can s... (0+ / 0-)

    Terrific, particularly the last where you can see the impact of the 73 and 79 oil shocks and the long decline under Reagan and Bush's war on the workers. The second Clinton term is the great Democratic success but only put workers back to the beginning of the Reagan years.

  •  To see those grim stats on a chart really drives (0+ / 0-)

    home what has happened in the country (and around the world).

    "The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations." ~ Thomas Jefferson

    by Lefty Coaster on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 11:41:49 AM PDT

  •  The difference between my generation and today's (0+ / 0-)

    The charts really drive home to me the problem today's youth face. When I was young and hustling to start making a life...1969 through 79, say...times were pretty damn good, according to these charts. Not only have we not made any upward progress since then, things have actually gotten worse. I was able to take advantage of those good years to get a leg up on a course that would lead to reasonable financial security. My University of California tuition was $400 per quarter, for goodness sakes...about $1700 in today's dollars, compared to about $4000 for today's quarterly tuition.

    No person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that man's only real freedom is to know and faithfully occupy his place -- a much humbler place than we have been taught to think -- in the order of creation. (Wendell Berry)

    by DocDawg on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 01:00:50 PM PDT

  •  What about public sector? (0+ / 0-)

    Are there comparable charts for public sector workers?

  •  (related) Wage theft: How employers steal millions (0+ / 0-)

    Wage theft: How employers steal millions from American workers every week
    by  Michael De Groote

    http://www.statesboroherald.com/...

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