29 January 2019

Wage Growth After the Great Recession

In numerous posts I've argued that the first half of the teens (the years from 2010 to 2019) would repair the unemployment rate and the second half would repair wage growth. Stats on wage growth 2009 to 2017 help to illustrate that. First we have to get unemployment down and then wages start to grow.

From the end of 2009 and 2015, unemployment fell by half, from 9.9% to 5.0%. Since then it has continued to drop but 5.0% gets unemployment within fairly normal boundaries. (This century, unemployment has been over 5.5% about as often as it is below 5.5%, so 5.0% is pretty good.) At that point the labor market has tightened enough that employers have to offer higher wages and can't simply hire folks from among the unemployed.

You can see the sharp rise in the rate at which incomes began to rise since 2015 here.

Last week with a client in Orange County, I was with an executive team. The head of HR told me that two big changes in the last year are passive recruitment and a new California law that bars employers from asking what you made in your last job.

Demand is high enough for employees that companies increasingly recruit people who are not looking, a process they call "passive recruitment." A lot of this recruitment happens within LinkedIn.

Also, last year California made it illegal for employers about to offer you a job to ask what you made in your last job.

The consequence of these two phenomenon are that there are a chunk of people who are getting very cool raises by changing jobs. Across the country, household incomes are rising at their fastest rate since the Great Recession.

More broadly, though, low unemployment rate simply means more upward pressure on wages. And wages are now rising at a healthy rate and will continue to rise as long as the economy continues to create new jobs at this rate.

That's very cool.

Take note, though, that politicians trying to make the case for change will point to older data and argue that wage growth is not keeping pace with inflation. Senator Kamala Harris argued this week that wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. That was true early in the decade when the unemployment rate was higher than average but is no longer true.

We're going to hear a lot of nonsense about what policy changes we need but we need to be clear about why wage growth was so sluggish. We had a Great Recession. What are the implications? Regulate financial institutions so that they do not blow up the economy. The problem is not the economy the problem is its vulnerability to financial mischief. Just like sports competition is enhanced by good officiating, so is business and finance competition. The American economy is still a great game; it's just that we can't expect good results when we've put blindfolds on all the refs. 

No comments: