Flat Wages Are Just Part of Workers' Nightmare Since Great Recession


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — One troubling consumer financial trend coming out of the economy is the size of worker paychecks: They aren't getting any healthier as the economy improves.

The data are fairly clear: According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 2011 to last year the U.S. median household income rose incrementally, to $57,353 from $56,802.

"This increase barely began to offset the losses incurred during the recession," the EPI says. "Incomes are substantially lower than they were before the recession began. From 2009-12, only households in the top 5% of the income distributions saw gains."

The report, penned by EPI President Lawrence Mishel and economists Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz, shows a "weak labor market" has generally kept wages low, especially for lower-income and middle-class workers.

"The report tells us what we already knew," Mishel says. "Hourly wages have been stagnant across the board for many years, even for college grads. We're not seeing much job growth, even as the unemployment rate falls."

"It shouldn't be surprising that incomes are not going up if people are not working more, finding jobs or seeing increases in their weekly paychecks," he says.

The median weekly U.S. wage is $768 in the study, roughly the same as in 2001 when adjusted for inflation.

Another study from the Florida State College of Business shows that 40% of U.S. workers are still feeling the bank-account-draining effect of the Great Recession.

The study cites the term "recession-related stress" and says workers largely remain dissatisfied and frustrated about their jobs. Study data point to "frustration with work, feelings of isolation, pessimism about the future of their companies, career disappointment, job anxiety and burnout and perceptions that co-workers are overly political and self-serving."

Florida State researchers surveyed 600 U.S. workers to draw their conclusions. Clearly, many Americans don't like where they see their careers.

"I view the recession as a traffic accident," says one plant manager included in the survey. "The crash may be over, but the car will never be the same even after we did our best to fix it."

Another survey participant, an office secretary, said she lost her job in the middle of the recession and was forced to relocate to find other work. She cites "frequent nightmares about that time in my life."

In the Florida State study, 49% of respondents say they "must do more with less" due to the lingering effects of the recession Another 46% say employers aren't handing out raises and bonuses with any regularity and that "management is stingier than ever."

While the economy is showing signs of a recovery, that really hasn't translated into fatter paychecks for the Great American Worker.

— By Brian O'Connell

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