The Mystery of the Vanishing Pay Raise
... the labor market is a lot softer than a 5.1 percent jobless rate would indicate. For one thing, the percentage of Americans who are working has fallen considerably since the recession began. This disappearance of several million workers — as labor force dropouts they are not factored into the jobless rate — has meant continued labor market weakness, which goes far to explain why wage increases remain so elusive. End of story, many economists say.
Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., put it another way: “There’s this pervasive norm” among employers “that labor costs must be held down at all costs because maximizing profits is the be-all and end-all.”
He added that the “atomization” of the American workplace — with the use of more temps, subcontractors, part-timers and on-call workers — had reduced companies’ costs and workers’ bargaining power.
As a result of all these trends, the share of corporate income going to workers has sunk to its lowest level since 1951. The Economic Policy Institute found that the decline in labor’s share of corporate income since 2000 costs workers $535 billion annually, or $3,770 per worker.
“The labor share has declined more than you would think in light of the tightening of the labor market,” said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist. “It suggests we’re seeing a decline in worker bargaining power.”
Another important trend depressing pay is that more than ever, companies are paying top dollar to star performers — whether marketing wizards or software programmers — while skimping on paying the many workers without special skills.