Shrinking wages, growing surplus
from David Ruccio
The recovery continues, but only for those at the top. For everyone else, it’s a continuation of the Second Great Depression.
How do we know? Because wages are declining—both total and average—while top salaries—distributions of the surplus—are rising.
David Cay Johnston has reported all the new data the mass media have decided not to report.
Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined, but at the very top, salaries grew more than fivefold. . .
Measured in 2009 dollars, total wages fell to just above $5.9 trillion, down $215 billion from the previous year. Compared with 2007, when the economy peaked, total wages were down $313 billion or 5 percent in real terms.
The number of Americans with any wages in 2009 fell by more than 4.5 million compared with the previous year. Because the population grew by about 1 percent, the number of idle hands and minds grew by 6 million. . .
Only 150.9 million Americans reported any wage income in 2009. That put us below 2005, when 151.6 million Americans reported wages, and only slightly ahead of 2004, when 149.4 million Americans held at least one paying job.
For those who did find work in 2009, the average wage slipped to $39,269, down $243 or 0.6 percent, compared with the previous year in 2009 dollars.
The median wage declined by the same ratio, down $159 to $26,261, meaning half of all workers made $505 a week or less. Significantly, the 2009 median wage was $37 less than in 2000.
What about those at the top?
The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.
The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!
You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.
So, there are more people without work, and those with a job are earning less. But the shrinking number of those at the top are getting more. Much, much more. Lower wages, higher surplus. Yep, that’s a genuinely capitalist recovery.