Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

mike1may

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labor share

They keep promising, ever since the recovery from the Great Recession started more than eight years ago, that the share of national income going to American workers will finally begin to increase. But it’s not.

Sure, profits continue to rise. And so is the stock market. But not what workers receive.

In fact, as is clear from the magnified section of the chart above, the labor share has actually been declining in recent quarters—even as the unemployment rate has fallen about as far as it’s going to go.*

But you don’t have to believe me. Even the Wall Street Journal has noticed this trend.

Labor’s share of domestic income has been declining since 1970 and has barely recovered in this expansion from lows last seen when the U.S. was pulling out of the Great Depression.

Employee pay and benefits as a percentage of gross domestic income fell to 52.7% in last year’s third quarter, for the fourth straight quarterly decline, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. It was as high as 59% in 1970 and 57% in 2001. If workers were commanding as much of domestic income as they did in 2001, they’d have nearly $800 billion more in their pockets, or $5,100 per employed American.

While the labor share has fallen, business profits are on the rise. Income of corporations, proprietorships, landlords and other businesses has climbed from less than 12% of gross domestic income in the 1980s to more than 20%.

It’s time then to call out the hollowness of the promises that economic growth and low unemployment will lead to improvements for the nation’s workers. Clearly, both economists and politicians, conservatives as well as liberals, continue to make such pledges.

But those promises are as empty as hell—because, as the king’s son once declared, “all the devils are here.”

 

 

*And, as I explained back in 2017, the situation may be even worse for workers than the official numbers capture. That’s because the “labor share” doesn’t give an accurate picture of the “workers’ share” of national income—for two reasons: First, the labor share (as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) includes both employee compensation and the labor compensation of proprietors (and thus a portion, minus the capital share, of the income going to proprietors). Second, the labor share does not account for inequality between the different groups who receive what is officially measured as labor compensation. Thus, the compensation of a highly paid CEO and a low-wage worker are both included in the labor share.

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The historically low black unemployment rate is one of Donald Trump’s favorite applause lines. Even Reuters [ht: ja] declares that Trump is right.

It doesn’t seem to matter that most of the decline in the unemployment rate for African American workers (from a high of 16.5 percent in the beginning of 2010 to a low of 6.3 percent today) occurred before Trump was ever elected.

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What does matter is that, even as the rate has dropped (the purple line in the chart above), black workers’ pay (the green line) has barely changed. After falling precipitously (by 10 percent, from the end of 2009 to the middle of 2015), it has only increased slightly (by 3.8 percent). Overall, the real wages of black workers have actually declined (by 6.5 percent, between the end of 2009 to today).

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White workers have suffered much the same fate. While the unemployment rate (the red line in the chart above) has declined dramatically (from a high of 9.1 percent at the end of 2009 to 3.4 percent today), white workers’ real wages (the blue line) have been stagnant—rising by only 1.4 percent (from the beginning of 2009 to today).

Today, black workers are earning $19 less per week (compared to their peak at the end of 2009), while white workers take home only $5 more per week (from their peak in the beginning of 2009)—even though the unemployment rate for both groups of workers has reached historically low levels.

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Meanwhile, the real beneficiaries of the current recovery—under both Trump and his predecessor—have been the employers of those workers, black as well as white. U.S. corporate profits continue to reach new historical records (soaring 172 percent from their low at the end of 2008, and 35.8 percent overall since the end of 2006).

American corporations are only too happy to hire workers, regardless of race or ethnicity, as long as their profits grow.*

That’s how the U.S. economy works today: the unemployment rates fall to record lows but workers’ pay barely budges. And an increasing portion of the value workers create fills corporate coffers.

In the end, that’s Trump’s real gift—to use everything in his power to direct attention away from the fact that all workers are being left behind.

 

*And when corporations decide they can’t make enough profits by hiring American workers, they lay them off and relocate production elsewhere. That’s what General Motors just did, eliminating 15 percent of its salaried workforce—destroying some 14,000 jobs—and halting production at five of its North American auto plants. As Christopher Ingraham explains,

That combination of unemployed workers and happy investors underscores a key point about the modern American economy: What’s good for corporate profits isn’t necessarily good for workers.

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