Michael Strain says that wages have grown more than people think. The usual figures from lefties are rigged, he says, by starting in 1973 and using the CPI to calculate inflation. If you start in 1990 and use the PCE index instead, wages of blue-collar workers¹ have gone up 32 percent. Not bad!

Strain’s math is correct. But let’s take him up on his choice of starting date and inflation index. Here’s the chart he doesn’t show:

It’s true, using Strain’s measures, that worker pay has increased 32 percent since 1990. That’s about 1 percent per year. But overall national income has grown three times as fast. Where is all that extra income going? Here is Strain:

I’m not trying to be sanguine here. Americans have high expectations for wage and income growth, and we shouldn’t be satisfied with the gains we’ve enjoyed over the past three or five decades….But messages matter. If all people hear is that wages have been stagnant for decades as part of a game rigged to benefit people at the top — well, they might believe it.

I’d say that people have every reason to believe this. If national income has gone up 109 percent since 1990, why hasn’t the income of ordinary workers also gone up that much? I think we all know the answer.

¹As usual, I’m using “blue-collar” as shorthand for what the BLS calls “production and nonsupervisory workers.” This includes about 80 percent of the population.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate