If, like most of the policy and business establishments, you’re mystified by the continuing failure of American wages to rise healthily despite labor markets that seem unusually tight, you’ve stayed mystified this morning. The Labor Department has just reported that inflation-adjusted pay in September in the private sector and in manufacturing both fell sequentially for the second straight month. Moreover, the new data reveal that real manufacturing wages worsened year-on-year for the first time in three years.
The figures are still preliminary, but according to the Labor Department, after-inflation wages for the private sector dipped on month in September by 0.09 percent. That’s better than the 0.19 percent drop in August (which is still preliminary, and stayed unrevised), but it means that, as of now, U.S. workers on the whole have failed to keep up with the cost of living for two consecutive months. (The federal government doesn’t track wages in the public sector, because they’re set mainly by politicians’ decisions, not economic fundamentals.)
The annual numbers are every bit as discouraging. Real private sector pay was only 0.65 percent higher this September than last. The results between the previous Septembers? A 1.23 percent real wages rise.
As for the longer-term, price-adjusted private sector wages are up 4.56 percent since the current economic recovery officially began in mid-2009.
But as bad as these private sector statistics are, they nearly glow compared with manufacturing pay’s performance. Industry’s real wages fell 0.09 percent on month in September, too – but that decline followed an unrevised 0.91 percent monthly plunge in August that was the worst since November, 2011’s 0.95 percent nosedive.
Even worse, after-inflation manufacturing wages are now down 0.18 percent year-on-year. That’s their first annual deterioration since September, 2014 (0.29 percent). Moreover, between September, 2015 and September, 2016, real manufacturing pay improved by 1.40 percent.
And since the recovery officially began, more than eight years ago, manufacturing pay has stayed ahead of living costs by a grand total of 1.03 percent. Consequently, over the last year, as poorly as real private sector wages have fared, they’ve widened the performance gap with manufacturing wages. As of last September, the former had increased during the recovery by 3.88 percent, compared with 1.21 percent for the latter – or 3.21 times faster. As of this September, overall private sector wages have advanced 4.43 times faster than manufacturing wages.
This manufacturing wage stagnation should be of special concern to President Trump. It’s true that his months in office so far have seen an employment pickup in industry. But if the supposed mystery of wage lag isn’t solved pretty soon, when the next mid-year elections arrive, those “Blue Wall” voters in manufacturing-heavy states that helped put him in the White House last year could still be feeling pretty blue.