June 27, 2019

"Wage Stagnation" Is a Myth

“Perhaps the most common indictment of America’s legendary prosperity is wage stagnation. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees peaked in October 1972 at $23.26 (in 2019 dollars) and were at that same level in March 2019. But do these numbers remotely describe the life you have lived over the past 45 years, or square in any way with numerous official measures of changes in what Americans actually own and consume? In short, should you believe your eyes or government data?

Compared with 1972, American homes today are much more spacious and modern. The proportion of homes today that have two or more rooms per person is up 33.5%. The share of homes with two or more bathrooms has more than doubled; central air-conditioning is more than three times as common; and the share of homes that have dishwashers is up by more than two-thirds. Most homes in 1972 had televisions, but only about half were color sets. Today they are all color and most are flat screens in high definition, attached to cable or satellites. The average home in 1972 had at least one phone, but none had cellphones or internet access.

Kitchens today are stocked with a far wider array of foods, including out-of-season fruits brought from half a world away and a vast variety of prepared foods. Compared with 1972, this abundance costs an ever smaller portion of families’ budgets, freeing up some $3,200 on average to spend on other things.”

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