November 13, 2019

The Economy Isn't as Good as It Seems

“Much has been made lately of the hot economy, a narrative driven largely by a long run of strong jobs numbers. But this enthusiastic story line is ignoring a few disturbing structural problems that suggest that the economy is not as strong as those numbers suggest. Underneath the hood, problems persist, including earnings below what families need to get by, stark inequalities in wealth and income, an increasingly jittery stock market, an affordable housing shortage, damaged fiscal accounts and slower growth on the horizon.

Wages trend up but still too low: The tight labor market is no doubt lifting workers’ wages, particularly at the bottom of the wage scale as less-advantaged workers see their bargaining position improved. However, a few good years of rising wages doesn’t make up for the decades of real wage stagnation faced by many middle- and low-wage workers. The result is that for many working families, their paychecks fail to meet their basic needs.

Consider a single parent with a couple of kids who is earning the 20th-percentile wage (20 percent earn less; 80 percent earn more) and whose pay could rise to $13 per hour by the end of this year, or about $26,000 per year, pretax. Subtracting payroll taxes and adding tax credits for working parents could get her up to about $30,000. That clears the poverty line, but it doesn’t pay for decent housing, child care, health care and transportation, at least not in most cities. Family budget calculators show that child care for two kids costs about $11,000 per year in Ohio, and more than twice that in New York. Add housing and health-care costs, and even middle-wage earners with children have trouble squaring their budgets with their salaries.”

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