If you’re really determined to make the case that wage inflation is (finally) taking hold in the U.S. economy, you can find some supporting evidence in the government’s new report on the subject. But you need to look awfully hard, and you also have to ignore other data suggesting that this proposition is still pretty far-fetched.
First the new (July) numbers. (They’re still preliminary, like the June results, which are unchanged.)
For the private sector overall, real wages rose by 0.19 percent month-to-month – lower than June’s 0.28 percent increase. Year-on-year, real wage improvements decelerated, too – from 0.94 percent in June to 0.75 percent in July.
Manufacturing’s results were more robust, with inflation-adjusted wages advancing faster on month in July (0.46 percent) than in June (0.18 percent). Acceleration was evidence on an annual basis, too, with the July year-on-year growth of 0.83 percent besting June’s 0.55 percent. In fact, the July annual increase was the greatest since December (1.03 percent).
The annual constant-dollar statistics contain the strongest signs of vibrant life on the wages front. In particular, year-on-year increases this year have strengthened from 0.09 percent in January to 0.75 percent in July, and in manufacturing from 0.28 percent to 0.83 percent during this period. And that manufacturing figure was the year’s best. As reported above, however, the best annual private sector real wage growth of this year came in June.
In addition, if you more than a year back, you can see that annual real wage growth has slowed considerably after a notable speed-up earlier in the current economic recovery.
For example, for the private sector, after improving by 0.59 percent total between July, 2011 and July, 2014, real wages jumped 2.04 percent between 2014 and 2015, and by 1.90 percent between 2015 and 2016, before the latest, much slower, 0.75 percent rise.
In manufacturing, between July, 2011 and July, 2014, real wages actually dropped by 0.66 percent. The following Julys saw a 1.34 percent increase that nearly doubled to 2.26 percent over the next year before settling back to 0.83 percent during the latest July-July period.
But for me, the most revealing real wage numbers are those measuring its change throughout the current economic recovery. Since it began, in mid-2009, after-inflation private sector wages have risen only by 4.75 percent, and real manufacturing wages are up a mere 2.05 percent. Until those increases get much bigger, warnings of wage inflation understandably will be seen as sick jokes by most American workers.