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It’s as if the Open Borders Lobby – both its conservative and liberal wings – has recently decided that it’s really had enough of labor market tightness that’s due to reduced immigration, and that’s also giving so many of America’s workers a long-needed pay raise. So it’s been re-upping the pressure to open the floodgates once again and solve this terrible problem. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.)

As is so often the case, the Open Borders-happy Washington Post editorial board has made the case most succinctly: “[C]ompanies are frantically trying to hire enough workers to keep up with the surge in demand for everything from waffle irons to cars. The nation has more than 11 million job openings and 6 million unemployed.

This imbalance is giving workers and job seekers tremendous power. Pay is rising at the fastest pace in years….”

Yet this claim is not only profoundly anti-American worker. It’s completely false – at least if you look at the only measures of pay that reveal anything about whether employees are getting ahead or not. And they’re of course the compensation measures adjusted for inflation.

What do they show? Between 2020 and 2021, inflation-adjusted hourly pay for all U.S. workers in the private sector were down by 2.10 percent and for blue-collar workers by 1.52 percent. (As known by RealityChek regulars, the U.S. Labor Department that tracks pay trends for the federal government doesn’t monitor any type of compensation for public sector workers because their wages and salaries and benefits are determined largely by politicians’ decisions, not the forces of supply and demand. As a result, they’re thought to say little about the labor market’s true strengths or weaknesses.)

Do you know when such wages have fallen by that much? Try “never” for the entire workforce (where the Labor Department data go back to 2006), and for blue collar workers, several times during the 1970s, which were a terrible time for the economy overall. (For this group, the official numbers go back to 1964).

But haven’t better benefits compensated? Two Labor Department data sets do measure changes in all forms of compensation. The best known, and the one most closely followed by the Federal Reserve and leading economists everywhere, is the Employment Cost Index (ECI). It covers state and local government (though not federal) employees as well as private sector workers. But there’s no evidence of any inflation-adjusted gains for the nation’s workforce – much less outsized gains – from these statistics either.

From the fourth quarter of 2020 to the fourth quarter of 2021, this index did increase by 4.37 percent for all covered workers (breakouts for white- and blue-collar employees only go up to 2006). Yet during this period, the Labor Department’s inflation measure, the Consumer Price Index, was up 7.42 percent. That’s called “falling behind” in my book.

When business (and government on the state and local levels) starts offering pay that’s rising higher than the inflation rate, then Americans as a whole can start worrying about genuine labor shortages. (And even then, as I’ve written, it would be much better for the economy as a whole if companies responded by boosting their productivity, rather than by agitating for more mass immigation with the aim of driving wages down and of course dodging any incentives to operate more efficiently.) For now, though, it’s obvious that what U.S. business is “frantic” about (to use the Post‘s term) isn’t a shortage of workers. It’s a shortage of cheap workers.