Whether it’s because of unskilled, unproductive newbies or continuing jobs offshoring or (as likely) some combination of these and other trends, today’s real wages figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics can’t be read as good news for American manufacturing workers. For it means that the lengthy technical real wage depression they’ve been suffering on average just got longer.
Because of a 0.37 percent monthly drop in October – the biggest such falloff since August, 2017 (0.64 percent) – inflation-adjusted hourly pay in manufacturing is now down on net since December, 2015 (by 0.19 percent). That’s one month longer than this slump had lasted as of the previous data in this series, and a decline that’s lasted far longer than the definition of a technical recession: a cumulative decline over at least two consecutive quarters.
Another measure of manufacturing’s pay doldrums: After-inflation hourly wages are now back to exactly their level in June, 2009 ($10.72), when the current recovery began. That is, they’ve made absolutely no progress over a more than nine-year period.
Moreover, the October figures indicate that current-dollar manufacturing wages will weaken further before they start strengthening. In particular, the 1.11 percent annual decrease was the biggest such deterioration on a relative basis since October, 2012’s 2.09 percent nosedive. By contrast, between October, 2016 and October, 2017, real manufacturing wages dipped by only 0.28 percent.
The real wage news for all private sector workers was better – but not by much. On month in October they were down 0.09 percent (their first such drop since February). On an annual basis, though, they rose by 0.65 percent. And meager as that is, it was the best yearly performance since January (0.66 percent), as well as a substantial improvement over the previous October’s 0.19 percent.
As a result, though, inflation-adjusted private sector wages still have advanced by only 4.75 percent since the current economic recovery began in mid-2009. And whether justified by inadequate skills levels or not, for an economy that remains strongly dependent on consumption for its growth, that doesn’t sound like a formula for lasting prosperity.