Blue-Collar Wages Are Nothing to Crow About Yet

How have ordinary blue-collar workers been doing lately? To hear the financial press tell it, their wages are skyrocketing. “It’s still a workers’ labor market” says Vox, while the Wall Street Journal warns of dire days ahead for corporate profits.

But let’s not get carried away. Thanks to low inflation, workers have been doing fairly well for the past few months. But if you look at quarterly data for the past two years compared to the past 20 years, here’s what you get:

During 2018 blue-collar wages went up about 1.1 percent. It was a decent year, but it was just making up for a lackluster 2017. Over the past two years together, blue-collar wages have gone up 0.67 percent per year. That’s nearly identical to the 20-year trend, which has seen blue-collar wages increase 0.66 percent per year.

If blue-collar wages continue to rise at 1-2 percent per year for four or five years, then we’d have something to be happy about. But we’re nowhere close to that. We’ve had one year of middling-good growth, a few months of good growth, and that’s all. There’s really nothing extraordinary going on here.


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