The above chart, based on St. Louis Fed data, means something, though I’m not quite sure what. Certainly the average worker is putting in fewer hours each year. The number was 1,912 hours in 1970; it fell to a low of 1,732 in 2009, then rose a bit the following year.
We can also see that after a period of relatively stable numbers during the 80s, the number of hours worked climbed during the Clinton administration, only to fall precipitously under Bush II. We might ask, “What’s wrong with working less?” After all, that seemed to be a goal a while ago, experiencing more leisure time as technology lessened the need for us to work. Perhaps we were making more money per hour worked, in which case our standards of living may have remained the same or even rose a bit.
Hmm. Real wages increased by 12 percent under Clinton, seven percent under Bush II, and remained flat under Obama. The Great Recession had almost everything to do with the last period. Nevertheless, though we are working fewer hours, we’re not making any more money.
I realize that you’re not making that kind of money, benefits included. These are averages. The One-percenters skew everything. Still, we can see that over the Bush II years, continuing into the Obama administration, real compensation has remained essentially flat.
As I said, these numbers are skewed, and more so of late.
Keep in mind that the lowest Gini index is 0.25 in Sweden, and the highest exceeds 0.50 in some countries (e.g., Nicaragua, Mexico). The point of the above graph is to show that U.S. inequality rose steadily from 1970 to 1994, then has stayed somewhat flat since. (I include the graph and this brief discussion to illustrate the skewering effect.)
We also know that millions of Americans have lost their jobs following the collapses of the housing bubble and Wall Street. And the duration of unemployment has skyrocketed.
Over 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 27 weeks, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, via the St. Louis Fed.
The picture is gloomy. The unemployment rate, though falling from its peak of 10.9 percent in October 2009 to about 8.6 as of March of this year, is much higher than the post-war average of 5.6 percent (excluding the Great Recession years). Those who have a job are working less, while their compensation remans flat or falling, if we exclude the One-percenters from the calculations. If you lost your job, you’re likely to be out of work for a much longer period than the post-war average of 13 weeks, excluding the Bush II years and the Great Recession.
Well, one predictable response to the doom and gloom from the GOP is more austerity. Yeah, that’s the ticket.