Posts Tagged ‘wages’


Special mention

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Special mention

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hourly earnings

We’re now six and a half years into the official recovery from the Great Recession and, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the headline unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent.

However, just to keep things in perspective, the number of long-term unemployed (workers who have been without a job for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 2.1 million in October and has shown little change since June. These individuals accounted for 26.8 percent of the unemployed in October.

And, as we can see from the chart above, workers’ wages, while increasing, have still recovered much more slowly than during the previous three business cycles.

As I wrote yesterday,

it is clear both that the initial downturn was much more protracted than mainstream economists (including central bankers, like Ben Bernanke) had the courage to admit and that the persistent negative effects of that crisis continue to depress actual rates of growth below the earlier trend.


Special mention

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[ht: ja]

If there’s one area that isn’t contributing to higher college costs and historic levels of student debt, it’s faculty salaries—especially the pay received by adjunct professors.

According to Caroline Fredrickson,

In 1969, almost 80 percent of college faculty members were tenure or tenure track. Today, the numbers have essentially flipped, with two-thirds of faculty now non-tenure and half of those working only part-time, often with several different teaching jobs. . .

To say that these are low-wage jobs is an understatement. Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line. And, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Known as the “Homeless Prof,” Mary-Faith Cerasoli teaches romance languages and prepares her courses in friends’ apartments when she can crash on a couch, or in her car when the friends can’t take her in. When a student asked to meet with her during office hours, she responded, “Sure, it’s the Pontiac Vibe parked on Stewart Avenue.”


According to the latest data from the Social Security Administration [ht: db], the raw average wage in the United States (computed as net compensation divided by the number of wage earners) was $44,569.20 in 2014. Based on data in the table above, about 67.2 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the raw average wage.

By definition, 50 percent of wage earners had net compensation less than or equal to the median wage, which is estimated to have been only $28,851.21 for 2014.

About 1 in 7 American workers earned less than $5000 in 2014.

I’ll admit I’m of two minds about all the positive references to European socialism these days. I’ve read enough police procedurals by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall to know all is not well in the kind of social democracy that many countries in Europe managed to build in the postwar period. More seriously, I think we’re setting our sights too low if our horizon is limited to what some sectors of some European countries have been able to achieve (and, of course, what they’ve left untouched)—not to mention the forms of austerity European socialists have been attempting to manage after the crash of 2007-08 and their unwillingness to deal with the current massive inflow of refugees.

On the other hand, there’s something useful in challenging the constraints imposed on discussions in the United States by referring to the kinds of life and work people have been able to create in Western Europe. Bernie Sanders, to take one prominent example, refers to universal healthcare, free public education, better childcare, and higher wages in Denmark and Sweden as examples Americans might emulate.

And then there’s Chantal Panozzo’s description [ht: sm] of the differences between working in the United States and in Switzerland.

A hiring manager at an American company who interviewed me recently for a permanent position asked me how much vacation I wanted. When I said four weeks, which is the legal Swiss minimum, she paused and said O.K., but then informed me that I would need to check my phone and email during this time.

I responded that checking my email on vacation wasn’t my definition of a vacation. She didn’t know what to say. Finally, she grudgingly said they could write it into my contract that I wouldn’t have to check my email during vacation. But the situation made me wonder, once again, if a country that bred this kind of culture was a place where I wanted to spend the rest of my working life.

Later, when I asked a different American company about the possibility of working part time, four days a week, they said they didn’t know how that would work. I tried to explain how I had successfully worked part time in several jobs overseas — even creating television commercials while doing so, but it was no use. I was fighting a culture that was not ready for my “radical” Swiss ideas. The fact that it was my own culture — supposedly so advanced and creative — only made things worse.

So, what role does European socialism play in our current debates about life and work? Well, it shows, in a very concrete way, that things in the United States don’t have to be the way they are. “Look,” we can say, “they manage to do it over there. And we’re an even richer country. Imagine what we could do here.”

But then we can also say, there are more far-reaching changes we can make to enhance the life and work of the majority of the population—even more than European socialism has thus far been able to achieve.