NELP, the National Employment Law Project, has taken a detailed look at what happened to wages during the recovery — specifically, between 2009 and 2012. They looked at the annual Occupational and Employment Statistics for three years — 2007, 2009 and 2012 — and created a list of wages for 785 different occupations. They then split those occupations into five quintiles, according to income; the lowest quintile made $9.49/hr, on average, last year, while the highest quintile averaged $40.23/hr.
But let’s not look at averages, let’s look at the actual disaggregated data. Here are some charts which Ben Walsh laboriously constructed, and which need a little bit of explanation. Each thin line is one occupation, with nominal wages rebased to 2007=100. As a result, these charts show increase in wages, rather than absolute wages: the lines which rise the most are the ones with the biggest pay raises, not the ones with the highest pay. (Although, as you’ll see, the two are highly correlated.)
The two green lines show inflation: the dark-green line is CPI, while the light-green line is CPI-U, the urban index used by NELP. As a result, all the jobs below the green lines saw real wage declines between 2007 and 2012, while all the jobs above the green lines saw real wage gains.
The charts are presented in order, with the 1st quintile — the lowest-earning occupations — first. You can see that while wages grew in both real and nominal terms between 2007 and 2009, there was a decided flattening off thereafter, and inflation started overtaking a lot of jobs from 2009 onwards. The actual figures: real wages grew 1.9% between 2007 and 2009, and then fell 2.8% between 2009 and 2012, which means that over the full five-year period they fell, overall, by 0.9%.
As you go down the charts, you can see that until you get to the fourth and fifth quintiles, most jobs fall below the green lines — which means that they’re seeing their real wages fall. You can also see the commodification of low-wage jobs in the the number of occupations in the bottom two quintiles: there are just 47 occupations in the bottom quintile, while there are 186 occupations in the top quintile. (Each quintile, of course, includes the same number of total workers.)
The big-picture lesson that NELP draws is that between 2009 and 2012, real median hourly wages fell by 2.8% — and that the poorer you were to start with, the more your wages fell. The top quintile didn’t do well: their wages dropped by 1.8%, in real terms. But the fourth quintile did particularly badly: its wages fell by 4.1%, on average. To take one example, occupation 39-5012 — that’s Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists — was earning $12.00 an hour, in 2012 dollars, in 2009. But by 2012 they were earning just $10.91 per hour: a drop of more than 9%. Or look at occupation 51-6042 (“Shoe Machine Operators and Tenders”): that job saw wages fall 14%, in real terms, in just three years, with nominal wages falling from $12.69 to $11.69 per hour.
The charts show the large range of outcomes: some occupations are doing great. At the top end, the highest-paid profession on the list, Psychiatrists, went from earning $69.48 per hour in 2007, to $83.33 per hour in 2012. That’s a real increase of 8.3%. But overall, everybody is doing pretty badly. Here’s the NELP chart:
This chart shows where a lot of the current stock-market strength is coming from: capital is taking more than 100% of real productivity gains, with labor steadily losing out. This, I fear, is the New Normal: OK for investors, bad for workers.
Finally, just because I love it, here’s the list of people earning between $26 and $27 per hour, on average. Here Roof Bolters keep company with Social Workers, Librarians hang out with Foresters, and — of course — Public Relations Specialists linger near Writers and Authors. Luckily the Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers are there to keep the peace.