Posts Tagged ‘wages’

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That’s right: even as the United States is producing more cars than ever, U.S. (and Canadian) workers have never made so few of the parts that go into making those cars.

As the Wall Street Journal explains, this trend casts a long shadow over the much-vaunted comeback of U.S. car manufacturing.

As the inflow of low-cost foreign parts accelerates, wages at the entry level are drifting away from the generous compensation packages that made car-factory jobs the prize of American manufacturing.

At an American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. car-parts factory in Three Rivers, some new hires are paid as little as about $10 an hour, roughly equivalent to what the local Wal-Mart will pay. John Childers, a 38-year-old assembly-line stocker, said he is grateful for the job but finds it tough to get by on the money he and his fiancée make at the plant.

“Lower class is what we are,” he says. “Let’s be honest.”

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As it turns out, crows are even smarter than we thought possible.

And CEOs at large U.S. companies have collectively captured more in compensation than we thought possible.

According to Reuters [ht: ja], 300 CEOs who served throughout the 2009-2013 period at S&P 500 companies together realized about $22 billion in compensation—that’s $6 billion more in compensation than initially estimated in annual disclosures—in the form of pay, bonuses and share and option grants, or an average of $73 million each.

To put those numbers in perspective, the AFL-CIO estimates that, in 2013, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 331:1.* That ratio was 46:1 in 1983, 195:1 in 1993, 301: 1 in 2003.

Like any ratio, the result depends on both the denominator and the numerator. The CEO-to-worker pay ratio has grown because, during the 2009-2013 recovery, workers’ wages have remained roughly unchanged while CEO compensation has soared. Thus, the combination of falling unemployment, growing productivity, and higher corporate profits and stock prices we’ve seen in recent years hasn’t helped workers but only the owners and executives of the corporations where they work.

“The numbers can be obscene, particularly when you look at the general challenges we face as an economy and society,” said Matthew Benkendorf, a portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management, which oversees about $50 billion.

We’ve long known that crows are pretty clever. Remember Aesop’s famous fable “The Crow and the Pitcher”? The thirsty crow drops pebbles into a pitcher with water near the bottom, thus raising the fluid level high enough to permit the bird to drink.

Do we really need to be any more clever to figure out that—as CEO compensation continues to grow, leaving workers and everyone else further and further behind—existing economic institutions have failed us and need to be replaced?

*The CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio in 2013 was, of course, much higher—774:1

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The discussion of capital and labor shares puts the issue of class at the top of the agenda. No wonder, then, that mainstream economists are expending so much effort these days attempting to define away the problem.

Let me explain.

If we look at changes in capital and labor shares (measured in terms of corporate profits before tax and compensation of employees as shares of gross domestic product, as in the chart on the left), we can clearly see that, in recent decades, the profit share has been rising and the labor share has been falling. In other words, labor has been losing out to capital—and we need to focus on solving that class problem.

But, of course, the share of income accruing to capital doesn’t just show up in corporate profits; some of that capital share is also distributed to a small portion of income-earners in the corporate (both financial and nonfinancial) sector. The share of income of the top one percent (as in the chart on the right) is a good approximation. If we therefore added the top-one-percent to corporate profits, and at the same time subtracted it from the compensation of employees, the divergence between the capital and labor shares would be even greater—and the class problem would be even more acute.

MIT’s Matthew Rognlie understands this perfectly. He notes that David Ricardo pronounced the issue of how aggregate income is split between labor and capital the “principal problem of Political Economy” and that the recent explosion of research on inequality has both called into question the postwar presumption of constant capital and labor shares and emphasized the increasing share of income accruing to the richest individuals. In other words, class has once again reared its ugly head.

Instead of trying to solve this class problem, Rognlie attempts to define away the problem—first, by focusing on net income shares and, then, by including housing in capital. He concludes that, once those adjustments are made,

concern about inequality should be shifted away from the split between capital and labor, and toward other aspects of distribution, such as the within-labor distribution of income.

The problem with focusing on net income shares—that is, in the case of capital, gross profits minus depreciation—is that it confuses flows of value (corporate profits before taxes, plus incomes to the top one percent, in the way I suggested above) with expenditures (e.g., by corporations to replace the value of plant, building, and machinery that has depreciated in value during the course of production).

The problem with including housing in the capital stock is that it doesn’t form part of the capital from which capitalists derive a flow of new value added or created. Housing industry profits are already accounted for in gross corporate profits. The fact that individuals may own housing doesn’t allow them to capture any of that new value; it just allows them to enjoy the benefits of have a home and to pay the costs (to banks and other financial institutions) of financing their homeownership.

While I agree with Rognlie that the “story of the postwar net capital share is not a simple one,” the fall and then recovery of the capital share (in the form of both corporate profits and one-percent incomes), which is mirrored by the rise and then fall of the wage share, can’t simply be defined away.

In other words, just as it was in the early-nineteenth century, class remains the “principal problem of Political Economy” in our own times.

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U.S. workers’ wages are going nowhere fast.

According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly pay of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls was $20.80 in February was exactly what it was in January, just eight cents more than what it was in December 2014 and only 32 cents (or 1.6 percent) higher than it was a year ago.

In other words, nominal wages are just barely keeping up with the rate of inflation. As a result, even though productivity and corporate profits are up, the workers who are producing more and creating those profits are pretty much in the same position as they were at the start of the current recovery.

Here’s the explanation offered by Matt O’Brien:

It’s just the unemployment, stupid. Or maybe the underemployment. Between people who can’t find the full-time jobs they want, people who haven’t been able to find any jobs after looking for at least six months, and people who think things are so hopeless that they’ve given up looking for now, there are a lot more people than normal stuck on the margins of the labor force. And these “shadow unemployed,” according to the Fed, exert just as much downward pressure on wages as the regular unemployed. Put it all together, and wages haven’t recovered because the economy hasn’t fully recovered.

That’s pretty much the same conclusion I arrived at back in January:

The fact is, during the downturn, employers respond to slack demand not by lowering nominal wages (hence the “downward rigidities” mainstream economists so deplore), but by firing workers, replacing full-time workers with part-time workers, and increasing productivity (which mainstream economists can only celebrate). The result is a growth in the Industrial Reserve Army (as we can see in the dramatic growth in, and the still-elevated level of, the so-called U6 unemployment rate).

That pool of unemployed and underemployed workers (plus the availability of workers abroad, in China and elsewhere, together with the low level of unionization and the introduction of new, labor-displacing technologies) serves to regulate the level of wages: keeping nominal wages from rising even as economic growth picks up. In other words, employers don’t need to increase wages, either to keep their existing workers or to hire new ones. There are so many members of the Reserve Army of Unemployed and Underemployed workers willing to take whatever jobs are available that employers simply don’t need to increase wages.

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Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. Adjunct professors on campuses across the country hope to draw attention to their poverty-level wages, with no chance of advancing to a tenure-track position.

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According to an extensive crowd-sourced survey of adjunct working conditions conducted in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce,

Adjuncts don’t make much money, they receive little support in terms of professional development from the institutions where they teach, and most would accept a full-time tenure-track position if it were offered to them.

As Karen Hildebrand, an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, explains,

This National Adjunct Walkout Day aims to help adjuncts achieve parity with full-time faculty – better pay, job security, equality in professional development opportunities, etc.

But there are two things about this day that are pretty basic to how we treat each other and how we view the world.

First, hiring people as adjuncts sets a very bad example to college students. That’s not the way to treat people.

Instead of signaling “Get used to it – this is the world you will inhabit, we will use you, wring everything we can out of you and throw you out,” educators should be signaling, “Young College Graduate – we will help you make the world a better place.”

Second, this thing of paying substandard salaries to teachers is a victimization of people who love what they do.

Ask any musician or actor how many times she or he has been asked to donate a free performance. After all, to the people hiring them, it’s not real work – it’s fun! It seems people who love what they do are punished for it.

Parents tell their children, “Get a degree in something you love – but make sure you can make a living from it.”

Following that logic, teaching is one of the things that you shouldn’t get a degree in.