An Honest Look at Worker Pay

Michael Strain says that wages have grown more than people think. The usual figures from lefties are rigged, he says, by starting in 1973 and using the CPI to calculate inflation. If you start in 1990 and use the PCE index instead, wages of blue-collar workers¹ have gone up 32 percent. Not bad!

Strain’s math is correct. But let’s take him up on his choice of starting date and inflation index. Here’s the chart he doesn’t show:

It’s true, using Strain’s measures, that worker pay has increased 32 percent since 1990. That’s about 1 percent per year. But overall national income has grown three times as fast. Where is all that extra income going? Here is Strain:

I’m not trying to be sanguine here. Americans have high expectations for wage and income growth, and we shouldn’t be satisfied with the gains we’ve enjoyed over the past three or five decades….But messages matter. If all people hear is that wages have been stagnant for decades as part of a game rigged to benefit people at the top — well, they might believe it.

I’d say that people have every reason to believe this. If national income has gone up 109 percent since 1990, why hasn’t the income of ordinary workers also gone up that much? I think we all know the answer.

¹As usual, I’m using “blue-collar” as shorthand for what the BLS calls “production and nonsupervisory workers.” This includes about 80 percent of the population.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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