Explaining Away Stagnant Wages

Every now and again, the Bush administration or some other booster of the current economy will argue that wages aren’t really stagnating, as they appear to be to anyone who looks at the numbers. Rather, workers are just receiving more and more of their compensation in health care benefits.

Trouble is, that’s not true, at least not for workers at the very bottom of the ladder. According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2004 and 2005 the bottom 20 percent saw their wages decline 1.9 percent. Yet only 24 percent of those workers get health insurance through their employer. Basically, health care costs would have had to increase 39 percent during that year for this to be the primary explanation; in fact, it rose 9.2 percent. In reality, there’s something badly wrong with an economic “recovery” that has a large number of workers seeing their paychecks shrink rather than grow.


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