For decades, wages and incomes for the American worker have been stagnant, even as productivity has increased substantially. Over the 2000 to 2009 period, workers experienced a “lost decade,” with incomes falling by nearly five percent and wages hardly growing at all. And according to Jed Graham, the last decade in terms of real wages was actually worse than the Great Depression:
The increase in total private-sector wages, adjusted for inflation, from the start of 2001 has fallen far short of any 10-year period since World War II, according to Commerce Department data. In fact, if the data are to be believed, economy wide wage gains have even lagged those in the decade of the Great Depression (adjusted for deflation). Over the past decade, real private-sector wage growth has scraped bottom at 4%, just below the 5% increase from 1929 to 1939, government data show.
Lack of wage growth has been a sad reality for too many Americans over the last decade and more. “I hadn’t seen a raise in 13 years,” Teresa Law, an Ohio home care attendant told ABC. “There was nothing new in your budget except for bills.” But during that time, bank CEOs made an average of $19 million per year. Those at the top of the income scale also did exceedingly well, and “the wealth of millionaire households in the U.S. could reach $87 trillion in 2020.”
At the moment, the wage trend doesn’t show much sign of reversing itself. Last year, wages grew at a paltry two percent. However, CEOs saw their pay increase by 27 percent in 2010, and their bonuses went up by 20 percent.
Yves Smith commented on Graham’s data by saying, “there is a curious failure to mention why wage gains were higher in the Depression despite even higher unemployment. Funny how it does not occur them to mentions unions as helping give workers some bargaining power.” Indeed, as we’ve shown before, as union membership has declined over the last few decades, middle-class incomes have followed suit.