Tag Archives: Wages

Income Inequality Crisis in 16 Charts – Response Part I

16 Charts.2

There has been a constant dull roar regarding the meme of income inequality.  I often see it in blogs and news articles in left leaning publications.  Lately though, I’ve seen it hit my social media pages.  Last night I found the whole thing summed up in one article:

Now we are engaged in a great tug-of-war over a few points in the top tax rate in Washington. But even if the White House pulls hardest, it won’t amount to much of a victory for the long-suffering middle class. The sources of their income stagnation are too deep, too varied, and too long-term for Clinton-era tax rates to cure them.

“There is a huge amount of focus on progressive taxes in our policy world but progressive taxes are not much of a solution to this,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “We need to get unemployment down rapidly. We need to greatly change our labor standards. We need to raise the minimum wage.”

He’s right: The middle class crisis — and its resulting income inequality — is the most important economic story of our time. There are a million ways to tell it, and here’s another: an annotated slide show, culled from the amazing 2012 edition of the State of Working America from EPI.

Thompson goes into an argument for the next 16-17 slides and discusses the usual suspects; wage gap, wealth distribution, distribution of stock market wealth and minimum wage.  There are some other pieces of data there to, but all the big ones were represented.

As I scrolled through, I just by chance grabbed the 2nd chart to investigate.  Thompson says:

Adding to the mystery is the remarkable de-coupling of productivity from real hourly compensation for all workers, including college graduates. The break seems to have occurred in the 1970s and accelerated very recently. Productivity grew steadily in the 2000s. Compensation didn’t.

I checked into what might have happened that would cause this de-coupling.  This is what I found:

The level of productivity doubled in the U.S. nonfarm business sector between 1970 and 2006. Wages, or more accurately total compensation per hour, increased at approximately the same annual rate during that period if nominal compensation is adjusted for inflation in the same way as the nominal output measure that is used to calculate productivity.

More specifically, the doubling of productivity since 1970 represented a 1.9 percent annual rate of increase. Real compensation per hour rose at 1.7 percent per year when nominal compensation is deflated using the same nonfarm business sector output price index.

In the more recent period between 2000 and 2007, productivity rose much more rapidly (2.9 percent a year) and compensation per hour rose nearly as fast (2.5 percent a year).

The relation between productivity and wages has been a source of substantial controversy, not only because of its inherent importance but also because of the conceptual measurement issues that arise in making the comparison.

Two principal measurement mistakes have led some analysts to conclude that the rise in labor income has not kept up with the growth in productivity. The first of these is a focus on wages rather than total compensation. Because of the rise in fringe benefits and other noncash payments, wages have not risen as rapidly as total compensation. It is important therefore to compare the productivity rise with the increase of total compensation rather than with the increase of the narrower measure of just wages and salaries.

The second measurement problem is the way in which nominal output and nominal compensation are converted to real values before making the comparison.   Although any consistent deflation of the two series of nominal values will show similar movements of productivity and compensation, it is misleading in this context to use two different deflators, one for measuring productivity and the other for measuring real compensation.

In short, compensation has, in fact, kept pace with productivity not lagged.  In fact:

Total employee compensation as a share of national income was 66 percent of national income in 1970 and 64 percent in 2006. This measure of the labor compensation share has been remarkably stable since the 1970s. It rose from an average of 62 percent in the decade of the 1960s to 66 percent in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s and then declined to 65 percent in the decade of the 1990s where it has again been from 2000 until the most recent quarter.

Again, when viewed as compensation and not the more simplistic wage, we are, to quote, remarkably stable” since the 1970’s.

But what happened in 1970’s that might change the way compensation was distributed?  Legislation:

During the 1970s, there were some important legislative and legal changes affecting compensation and workplace issues. Among the most important were the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Revenue Act of 1978. ERISA regulated private pensions and imposed financial and accounting controls. ERISA also established the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to ensure that workers would be paid their vested pension benefits, if their pension plans were terminated. The Revenue Act encouraged flexible benefit plans, and created the 401(k) defined contribution retirement savings plan. It also allowed employees to make elective pre-tax contributions to a variety of savings vehicles, such as saving, profit sharing, and employee stock ownership plans. In retrospect, these laws were extremely important, as they contributed to the change in the share of compensation accounted for by pensions and other retirement benefits.

Other important legislation that affected active and retired workers without necessarily affecting compensation directly included the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which authorized the Secretary of Labor to establish occupational safety and health standards in the workplace; the Comprehensive Employment Training Act of 1973, which consolidated and decentralized Federal employment programs and provided funds to State and local governments who sponsored employment services; and the 1974 amendment to the Social Security Act, which provides automatic cost-of-living adjustments, based on the Bureau’s Consumer Price Index.

The below chart shows what has happened over the twenty year period from 1966 to 1986:

16 Charts.2a

Just in those 20 years, cash money took a nearly 10% hit in the ratio of compensation.  Keeping that compensation constant, there should be little surprise that wages have fallen in proportion to productivity.

It turns out that Thompson’s analysis of the data depicted in that chart is incorrect, or misleading.  Employees are being compensated nearly the same since at least 1970.


Are You Smarter Than A Three Year Old: Inequality and fairness

It’s no secret Obama is going to bang the “It’s not fair” drum this election.  Hell, he’s been bangin’ it since LAST election.  He’s continually calling for the rich to “pay their fair share.”  He can’t rub two speeches together without mentioning that everyone should play by the same rules.  Even more, he continues to claim that the richest among us have been doing exceptionally well in the economy while the rest of us are seeing wages stagnate for the last 30 years.

Don’t forget that it isn’t true:

 The claim that the standard of living of middle Americans has stagnated over the past generation is common. An accompanying assertion is that virtually all income growth over the past three decades bypassed middle America and accrued almost entirely to the rich.

The findings reported here—and summarized in Chart 8—refute those claims.  Careful analysis shows that the incomes of most types of middle American households have increased substantially over the past three decades.

So if it isn’t true, why does Obama continue to bang this drum?

Because he thinks that we think it’s true.

Continue reading

Cost of Separation

Consider eating out.  Going to a restaurant and having dinner–lunch would work, breakfast too.  The way it works today is that a small short term “contract” is enacted.  You sit down and order, the joint brings you food and you have to pay for it.  This is understood to be a contract because if the place doesn’t bring you what they said they would, you have legal recourse.  Ina similar manner, should you choose not to pay, they have recourse as well; it’s illegal to d”dine -n dash”.

And this works well.  Based on this arrangement, I’m willing to try new places as often as I’m moved.  If something opens near me, I almost always try it.  Further, in a quest to find more and better restaurants in a specific genre of food, I’ll expand my radius and drive further to experiment.  However, what if it didn’t work this way.  What if the arrangement was different.

Suppose that if you wanted to try a new eatery you had to commit to eating there once a week for a year.  In short, by agreeing to eat there just once, you were legally bound to eat there 51 more times.

Do you think you would try more or fewer new restaurants?

It’s obvious.  We would all eat at fewer new restaurants.  Not only that, but we might find that as a result of such a restriction, fewer new restaurants would be opened in the first place.  In other words, the general overall “eating out” experience would be diminished.

The exact same is true of jobs.

As it becomes harder and harder for me separate from my labor, I’ll buy less and less of it.  It’s pure and simple.  It’s as true of labor as it is of restaurants as it is of cars.  And it’s being demonstrated around the world:

(Reuters) – Employers burned by the cost of laying off workers in the last crisis are uneasy about taking on permanent staff amid faltering economic growth putting pressure on the current workforce, a staffing industry executive said on Thursday.

Demand for temporary workers often acts as a leading indicator for overall economic growth, as firms hire flexible workers at the start of a recovery and cut staff ahead of a downturn.

Staffing firms Randstad, USG People and Manpower have warned of slowing jobs growth in Europe as the region’s debt crisis hammers consumer and business confidence.

“What has happened in this recession is that the psychology of hiring has completely changed,” said David Arkless, president of global corporate and government affairs at Manpower Group.

In the past firms hired temporary workers at the start of a recovery and gradually took on more permanent staff. But now, even in sectors and companies that are growing, employers are mindful of the huge costs of downsizing in the last recession and reluctant to take on permanent staff, he said.

“Employers are saying this could kill my company if I do the wrong kind of hiring now and it turns into a double dip recession,” said Arkless. “They are stretching the human element of their company to breaking point because they are so scared of hiring any more people right now.”

We all wanna make sure that our workers have it good.  However, when we mandate too much good, they get nothing.

Stagnant Wages and Employee Compensation

Do you feel that you are fairly compensated at work?  That is, are you getting from the company a fair return for what you give?  Maybe, maybe not.  I betcha that in this economy more people feel that they are NOT earning what they feel they are worth.

Is that true, though, over time?  Has out income stopped keeping pace with the times?  According to some, it would seem so:

It would seem that since 1970 or so, wages in America have been flat.  In fact, for much of the time since 1970, we have seen wages below the 1970 level.  And this fact is to be used against us to demonstrate that somehow the working class, the middle class, has it worse of now than in, well, than in 1969 apparently.

But is that the whole story?

I don’t think so:

…the level of productivity doubled in the U.S. non-farm business sector between 1970 and 2006. Wages, or more accurately total compensation per hour, increased at approximately the same annual rate during that period — if nominal compensation is adjusted for inflation in the same way as the nominal output measure that is used to calculate productivity.

Total employee compensation was 66 percent of national income in 1970 and 64 percent in 2006. This measure of the labor compensation share has been remarkably stable since the 1970s. It rose from an average of 62 percent in the 1960s to 66 percent in the 1970s and 1980s, and then declined to 65 percent in the 1990s where it has remained from 2000 until the end of 2007.

From the actual report:

Another useful way to examine changes in the compensation share is to
focus on the nonfinancial corporate sector (as presented in table B14 of the 2007 Economic Report of the President.) This eliminates some of the very highly compensated individuals in the financial sector. It also avoids the problems raised by separating capital and labor income of sole proprietors . Comparing the compensation paid by the nonfinancial corporations to the net value added of the nonfinancial corporations reinforces the conclusions based on the larger scope of industries. In 1970 compensation was 74 percent of the value added of the nonfinancial corporate sector. In 2006, it was 73 percent. The decade averages rose from 70 percent in the 1960s and were very stable after that: 73 percent in the 1970s and 1990s, 74 percent in the 1980s and 75 percent since 2000.

What’s this all mean?

It means that there are other ways to compensate individual besides “wages”.  For proof of this, listen to the screeching of the Unionista as he complains that having to pay for his own health insurance (actually, just 12% of it) is a “pay cut”.  Of course, that implies that the benefit was first a “pay”, or what we in the biz call a “compensation”.  Similar to health benefits are paid days off, training, 401k and sick days.  To name a few.

I “get” a pager.

So, what does that graph look like if you graph compensation rather than just cash?

That there is total hourly compensation since 1950.  If you notice, right at 1970, we have a massive arc upwards.  Contrary to what you hear, the worker is better off than he was.