What's happening to labor earnings?

Posted by: Michael Mandel on June 13

Kash at Angry Bear has a pretty comprehensive post about what’s been happening to labor earnings.

All of his measures, however, show that real labor earnings—no matter how you measure them—are up over 1995, when the productivity surge started.

That’s important, because the real question is not whether there are short run fluctations in wage and profit growth—there always are—but whether gains from productivity are being passed onto workers over the long run.

Real wages are up over the past ten years, even when they broken down by occupation and industry. Even the less skilled occupations and industries have seen a gain in real wages over the past ten years (these figures are based on the real employment cost index for wages and salaries):

Change in real wages, by occupation
1976-85 1985-95 1995-05
Professional and technical 1.0% 3.5% 7.3%
Executive, administrative, managerial -6.0% 1.9% 13.9%
Adminstrative support and clerical -2.3% 2.0% 9.6%
Blue collar -3.9% -5.0% 5.8%
Service occupations -2.8% -4.5% 5.8%
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data as of the first quarter of year named. 


And here is a similar table by industries:

Change in real wages, by industry
1976-85 1985-95 1995-05 except as noted below
Construction -9.4% -8.1% 7.5%
Retail -9.8% -2.8% 5.8%
Transportation NA -8.4% 1.0%
Communications NA -2.0% 6.1%
Finance, insurance, real estate 1.3% -3.8% 22.0%
Business Services NA 1.5% 12.6%
Health Services NA 7.9% 7.6%
Colleges and Universities NA 2.3% 8.9%
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data as of first quarter of year named. 
For retail, 1977-85. For communications, 1988-95.
For business services, 1987-95. For colleges and universities, 1989-95
 For finance, insurance, and real estate, 1979-85

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Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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