American Paychecks Are Flatlining

Donald Trump’s own Department of Labor found that wages stayed entirely flat from June 2017 to June 2018. Why aren’t you getting a raise?

Have you gotten a raise in the last year? If not, don’t feel bad: you’re not alone. In fact, you are, statistically speaking, an average American.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics just released their Real Earnings Summary, which tracks trends in American wages. First, let me explain why this is a big deal: The Bureau describes itself as “the principal fact-finding agency for the Federal Government in the broad field of labor economics and statistics.”

The BLS are independent and dedicated to presenting facts without bias; on their FAQ page, they charmingly answer the question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” with a terse “At BLS we see an 8-ounce glass containing 4 ounces of liquid.” This is not a partisan institution.

The access the BLS has to American wages is comprehensive. The Real Earnings Summary examines all wages in America, from seasonal farm work to CEO pay. In short: if you were paid by an employer in America, you are represented in this survey.

The Real Earnings Summary finds that for all employees in America, “average hourly earnings were unchanged, seasonally adjusted, from June 2017 to June 2018.” In other words, the average American paycheck increased zero percent over the last year. (And if you work in production, the news is even worse: your wages actually decreased by .2 percent in the same timeframe.)

President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan both promised the average American worker a $4000 annual raise when they slashed taxes for the wealthy and corporations last year. This report proves that for the average American worker, the $4000 raise has not materialized. Like, at all.

In real terms, the average American is making even less money than they did last year. You don’t need me to tell you that costs are rising all the time. According to the good people at Price Basket, the price of a gallon of milk has increased by a dime in the last year alone. Same with a pound of grapes, and a pound of potatoes. A gallon of gas is on average fifty cents more expensive in June 2018 than it was in June 2017.

All those dimes and quarters add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a year, and workers aren’t getting raises to compensate to it. And it’s not just about groceries and gasoline: the Puget Sound Regional Council has found that housing prices in Seattle are increasing, as KUOW’s Carolyn Adolph put it, “$5 an hour, every hour of every day.” Basically, due to rising costs of living, if you don’t get a raise every year, you are actually taking a pay cut.

And if you look at the trends, you can clearly see that American wages have been on a steady decline for decades:

Screen shot from TradingEconomics.com.

Trickle-downers like Trump and Ryan keep promising that if corporations make enough money, those profits will trickle down to you in the form of increased wages. But corporate profits are now at a 7-year high, and wages are still flat. And as I pointed out last week, stock market experts are whining about the fact that raising worker wages might cut into corporate profits.


Soobviously, cutting taxes for the rich isn’t helping grow American wages. How can we give America a raise?

There’s a lot more we can do, but this would make a great start.

I wish I could tell you that there was one simple thing you could do to get a decent raise every year. But here’s what you can do to get started: Every time you vote, you have to look at every candidate and ask yourself if they are going to fight for your paycheck. And then when you’re not voting, you have to call your representatives and tell them to support hardworking Americans. And you have to support laws on every level of government that make it easier for American workers to get paid what they’re worth.

The good news is I can tell you that here in Seattle, the fight for decent labor standards has gotten easier with each successive victory. We passed a $15 minimum wage, and then we had a much smoother road to a victory onsecure scheduling. Now, the idea of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights seems almost uncontroversial.

The only surefire way to fail is to stop trying. The $15 movement in Seattle (and other cities around the country) is proof that big things can happen, if you make them happen. So if you want that raise, go out and get it.