Chart of the Day: Have Blue-Collar Workers Seen a Raise in the Past Half Century?


I was taking a look at something else this morning, and then decided to put it off because I wasn’t sure I was measuring the right thing. But along the way I happened to take a look at one of my favorite wage series, the one for production and nonsupervisory workers. I think of this as basically measuring “blue-collar wages.”

Anyway, it turns out to be a bracing example of how important seemingly arcane technical points can be. How have blue-collar workers done over the past half century? Well, if you measure inflation via the Consumer Price Index (brown line), they’ve gone nowhere. Literally. They’re making exactly as much today as they did in 1970. But if you measure inflation via the Personal Consumption Expenditure Index (red line), their wages have gone up nearly 30 percent. That’s not spectacular—real GDP per capita has increased 121 percent since 1970—but it’s a lot better than zero.

So which is it? You can make a case for both, and it has a big impact on how you view the economy of the past half century and what kinds of policies you support. Which one do you think is more accurate?