When I was making a case this morning that America is actually in pretty good shape, probably the biggest pushback I got was about wages. And I agree that on the economic front, that’s still our biggest problem. Unemployment is relatively low, but thanks to modest GDP growth and the long-term unemployed continuing to re-enter the workforce, the labor market hasn’t been tight enough to push wages up.
Still, the news isn’t entirely bad on this front. Cash wages remain pretty sluggish, but total compensation has risen nicely over the past five quarters. If this keeps up—and if health care costs continue to rise slowly—this will start to spill over into hourly wages. There are still plenty of things that could go wrong, and the weak growth of middle class wages remains our biggest long-term challenge, but there’s at least a glimmer of hope on this front. We may finally be truly starting to recover from the Great Recession.