Some Context for Tonight’s Speech

January 24th, 2012 at 6:56 pm

It sounds like the President is getting ready to deliver a speech that speaks directly to many of the living standards issues you read about here at OTE–issues regarding a fair shake for the middle class, the failure of trickle down, the need for a serious manufacturing policy. 

In that light, keep in mind this figure of real median weekly earnings for all workers, men, and women (it’s for full-time workers, 25 years and up).  These are the middle class paychecks of workers since 1979, indexed to 100 in that year, up through 2011, based on data released this AM.

Source: BLS

As you see, for middle-earning men, the series is basically flat for three decades.  In fact, in 1979, they earned about $900/wk (in today’s dollars) and last year, they earned $890.  Women did considerably better in terms of growth, with median weekly earnings up about 25% from 1979 through the early 2000s.  But since then, they’ve too have stalled out (female median wage, 2011: $718).

Here’s a snippet from tonight’s SOTU, released by the Whote House:

…we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values….

Let’s see the details, but the framing links up pretty cleanly with that picture—and that’s important.

Republicans will attack—they already are—arguing that the President wants to “put capitalism of trial.”

Nonsense.  The question I think will be at the heart of the speech is this: “Is our economy, as it is structured today, providing adequately for those who want to work hard, to play by the rules, to provide for their families?  Is it giving enough of us a fair chance to do these things?”

If you think so, then take a closer look at the wage data—and the inequality data—and the jobs data.  If you still think so, you might want to find something else to do tonight.

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3 comments in reply to "Some Context for Tonight’s Speech"

  1. cat says:

    Does this graph really show wage ‘growth’ for women or is it showing the reduction in pay discriminiation?


  2. carter says:

    Your chart makes it look like women have been out-earning men since 1979. Why would you graph the information this way?


    • Jared Bernstein says:

      Fair question–it’s because the scales of the three series are so different that if you put them on one graph it wouldn’t work. I’ll post more on these data soon.


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