For Blue-Collar Men, Life Looks Increasingly Dismal

Here’s a merger of two charts that have made the rounds recently. The first, from Brookings, shows a familiar pattern: the median pay of a man employed full-time has dropped substantially since 2010. The second, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that health care deductibles have risen substantially since 2010.

Put them together and you get the chart on the right. The light red line is bad enough: blue-collar men earn about $3,000 less than they did five years ago. The dark red line is even worse: if you factor in rising deductibles, they’re earning $3,500 less than they did five years ago.

This explains a lot of the discontent of the past five years, especially among working and middle-class white workers. In theory, health care is getting better every year, and if you take that into account then total compensation starts to look a little better. Technically, this is true. But think about it from the average worker’s point of view:

  • His cash wages have gone down.
  • Health care may be getting better, but that’s mostly invisible. It doesn’t seem any different than usual.
  • But high deductibles provide an incentive not to see the doctor when something minor is bothering you. So, in practice, health care actually seems not merely the same as always, but actually a bit worse and a bit more of a hassle. Either you ignore the minor stuff or else you go in and, thanks to higher deductibles, end up paying an infuriatingly high bill.

For your average blue-collar man, here’s what life seems like: wages are down, health care is more expensive, and you have to spend a lot more time worrying about whether it’s worth it to see your doctor. There’s not much to like in this picture.