As Wages Rise, Black Workers See the Smallest Gains

Despite record-low unemployment, black workers’ weekly pay growth lags behind other groups

Black workers have received far smaller pay increases in recent years compared with other racial groups, despite unemployment for black Americans trending at historic lows.

For all U.S. workers, inflation-adjusted median weekly earnings rose 5.3% in the first quarter of 2019 compared with when the recession began in late 2007, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Labor Department data released Tuesday.

.. The disparity suggests black workers aren’t benefiting to the same degree as others from what is by several measures the best labor market in nearly half a century.

Black unemployment last year fell to the lowest level on records dating back to the 1970s. But the rate, an average of 6.8% in the first quarter, was well above the overall rate of 3.9%.

“In a hotter economy, it’s important to be looking at the structural issues that may be inhibiting black workers from seeing better gains.” said Valerie Wilson, an economist and director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity and the economy.

One of those is racial discrimination, she said. Other factors are lack of jobs near where black workers live and a reluctance of employers to hire those with criminal backgrounds. More prisoners are black than white, according to the Justice Department, despite black people accounting for about 13% of the U.S. population. And reports have shown black men receive longer sentences than white men for similar crimes.

Hispanic workers are likely benefiting from the effects of better educational attainment, Ms. Wilson said. As Hispanics are increasingly first- and second-generation Americans, rather than immigrants, they’re seeking more schooling and earning correspondingly higher wages.

Hispanic workers still earned the least among racial groups, an adjusted $692 a week. Black workers, while they’ve seen smaller percentage increases, earned a median wage of $711 a week.

Women earn less than men within all racial groups. That could be another factor holding back overall pay for black workers: More black women than men are employed. In every other racial group, male workers outnumber female workers. In the past decade, Hispanic men began earning more than black women.

From Coke to Macy’s, Pay for Typical Worker Takes Big Swings

Coca-Cola slashed its median pay figure by two-thirds after it finished shifting North American bottling operations to franchisees and acquired a controlling interest in African operations. The 2017 median worker was an hourly full-timer in the U.S. making $47,312, while last year’s made $16,440 as an hourly full-timer in South Africa.

In its proxy statement, Coca-Cola said it intends to shed the African operation again after making improvements and offered an alternative median employee excluding that unit: an hourly full-timer in the U.S. making $35,878, about 25% less than his or her 2017 counterpart. A company spokesman declined to comment further.

For Whom the Economy Grows

If Jeff Bezos walks into a bar, the average wealth of the bar’s patrons suddenly shoots up to several billion dollars — but none of the non-Bezos drinkers have gotten any richer.

.. Since the 1970s, however, the link between overall growth and individual incomes seems to have been broken for many Americans. On one side, wages have stagnated for many; adjusted for inflation, the median male worker earns less now than he did in 1979. On the other side, some have seen their incomes grow much faster than the income of the nation as a whole. Thus C.E.O.s at the largest companies now make 270 times as much as the average worker, up from 27 times as much in 1980.

.. similar disconnect between overall growth and individual experience seems to lie behind the public’s lack of enthusiasm for the current state of the economy and its disdain for the 2017 tax cut. G.D.P. numbers have been good in recent quarters, but much of the growth has gone to soaring corporate profits, while median real wages have gone nowhere
.. But how do facts like these fit into the overall story of economic growth? To answer this question, we need “distributional national accounts” that track how growth is allocated among different segments of the population.

.. Producing such accounts is hard but not impossible. In fact, the economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have already produced estimated accounts with considerable detail over the past half century. The main message is one of growth going disproportionately to the top and not shared with the bottom half of the population, but there are also some surprises in the other direction. For example, the middle class, while still lagging, has done better than some common measures indicated thanks to fringe benefits.

.. In a reasonable world, then, something like the Schumer-Heinrich bill would become law in the near future. In the real world, of course, the proposal will go nowhere for the time being — because Republicans don’t want anyone to know what distributional national accounts might reveal.

.. By now everyone knows that conservatives routinely yell “socialist!” whenever anyone proposes doing something to help less fortunate members of our society — which is a key reason so many Americans now think favorably of socialism: If guaranteed health care is socialism, bring it on. But the right doesn’t just cry foul at any attempt to limit inequality; it does the same thing whenever anyone tries to talk about economic class, or measure how different classes are faring.

.. My favorite example here is still former senator Rick Santorum, who denounced the term “middle class” as “Marxism talk.” But that was just an especially ludicrous version of a general attempt on the right to suppress talk about and research into where the economy’s money goes. The G.O.P.’s basic position is that what you don’t know can’t hurt it.

And to be fair, progressives like the idea of distributional accounts in part because they believe that more knowledge in this area would help their own cause.

U.S. Consumer Price Increases Are Eating Away Worker Wage Gains

For the second month in a row, annual inflation fully offset workers’ average hourly wage growth

For a second month in a row, annual inflation fully offset average hourly wage growth in June, leaving workers’ real hourly earnings flat from a year earlier despite falling unemployment and a generally strong economy. Production and nonsupervisory employees, a category which includes blue-collar workers, saw their real average hourly wages fall 0.2% in June from a year earlier after a similar slip in May.

.. While workers made up for higher prices by working slightly more hours per week, the stagnation of Americans’ purchasing power underscores questions about the extent to which workers are benefiting from an economy that by many other measures is booming.

.. “Wage growth remains surprisingly weak,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, in a note to clients earlier this week. “The remarkable ability of firms to lure more workers back into the labor force and get stronger productivity gains from them without raising wages is a clear positive for profits.”

..  in June, Fed “participants generally agreed that the economic expansion was progressing roughly as anticipated, with real economic activity expanding at a solid rate, labor market conditions continuing to strengthen, and inflation near the Committee’s objective,” according to meeting minutes released last week.

Economists said Thursday’s data generally supported their view that inflationary pressures are gradually picking up.

.. The impact of those tariffs, should they take effect, won’t be negligible, economists say.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the goods subject to the proposed tariffs account for almost 6% of the core CPI, meaning that a 10% levy would lift the index by up to 0.6 percentage point.

.. “The Fed can’t stand back and ignore a hit of this size, given the tightness of the labor market,” Mr. Shepherdson said in a note to clients dated Thursday. “People will seek to be compensated for the squeeze on their real incomes as a result of higher prices, and their chance of being able to force employers to pay up is better now than at any time since the crash.”