USA Today reports that wages may be going up. The problem is that increases tend to be in certain professions and areas. Following an analysis by payroll processor ADP, the article claims that key trades are seeing pay increases between 3.8 and 7.2%. Interestingly the biggest pay increases have come in companies with 1,000 or more employees (5.9%). Smaller companies have offered lower raises: 500-999 employees (2.9%), 50-499 employees (2.5%), and 49 workers of less (2.9%). By region, the Midwest (4.4%) and West (4.4%) are earning more than those in the Northeast (3.0%) and South (2.6%). If these numbers are accurate, it's good news for workers in the right trade in the right area. Hopefully the good news will continue to grow and spread.
Bloomberg reports today on careers that offer significant pay increases. Most workers are looking at minimal salary increases even though the unemployment rate has fallen. Workers in technology and finance have seen wages grow between 4-10%. What can you do to earn more? For most working people, especially those with college degrees, the best way to earn more is to find a new job. In many cases, new employers tend to offer more than current employers. Another way is to try to take the next step up the career ladder. Two clients who are clients in the grocery industry have told me that they have hired department managers with little experience. Why did they do this? Turnover. As the job economy heats up, there is more opportunity to move up because the experience employees are less available. If you’re unhappy with your current income, find a way to make a move.
USA Today had some good news: benefits are on the rise. Companies offering paid maternity leave have increased over the last year from 12% to 21%. Over the same period, paid sick leave has increased from 33% to 42%. Family leave is up from 19% to 24%. The article even cited some companies that are offering “unlimited vacation.”
This all sounds good. However, as I’ve noted in recent posts, income is not rising in a significant way for most Americans. Payscale offers an informative chart that demonstrates how little pay in the U.S. has changed from 2007 to the Present. Benefits are good only when they are needed. Wage increases give people more control over their lives, more of a feeling of security.
Bloomberg is one of my favorite sources to learn about the economy and how it affects workers. Dan Moss, Bloomberg’s Executive Editor for Economy, has a short article on a good measure to understand how to gauge changes in hourly earnings. The Employment Cost Index (ECI) is a quarterly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Moss, it “looks at how much employers are compensating the same position over a period of time. In other words, what is the pay of a builder, or plumber, or, God forbid, a journalist for a job over a period of time.” He says the number to watch is 2%, which is where the index has been stuck for a long time. Moss cites a forecast by Morgan Stanley that says the index will move to 2.6%, which he calls “encouraging.” I hope this is good news. In any case, it is good to have another tool to analyze what we are earning.
P.S. USA Today reported the latest ECI data, and the news was ugly. The second quarter increase was only 0.2%, "the slowest pace on record dating to the early 1980s." The article goes on to discuss how this lack of growth is odd given drops in unemployment. Employers should have to pay more to hire new employees and keep existing employees in a tight labor market. I will keep watching this topic and follow up with other news and views about how our very strange economy affects workers.
Much has been made of a comment by presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who said that economic growth depended on people working “longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in.” According to a source cited by Mark E. Anderson of Daily Kos, American work on average 46.7 hours per week.
My problem with Bush’s comments is that Americans are already working too many hours. As Anderson points out, many people go to work even when they’re sick because they are not eligible for paid sick leave. The problem ignored by Bush is that Americans are not getting the kind of raises they have in the past. Working Americans are stressed by too much work, burdened by death, and frightened by insecurity. President Obama put it best: “America needs a raise.”
Bloomberg reports what seems to be good news. John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve's San Francisco bank, says that the job market is doing so well that the central bank might need to raise interest rates. The article cites lower unemployment rates as the reason for the Williams' statement. Unemployment has declined greatly from its peak during the Great Recession. Even so, many Americans who are counted as employed are only working part-time. Many more are working full-time, but doing so at a low wage. Even workers who make middle class incomes are struggling because they have only received minimal raises over the past 5-8 years.
It’s great to be optimistic, and the Fed should be concerned with inflation. However, most Americans do not feel secure in their jobs and incomes. According to the Consumer Confidence Index of the Conference Board, Americans are not enthusiastic about the current economy. Almost as many people (11.1%) expect their incomes to decline as the small number (17.4). These metrics also show that most American are treading water, not what should be expected in an expanding economy. Politicians and the Fed need to address that concern and not simply focus on the unemployment rate. There will only be a real recovery when Americans feel financially secure.
Daily Kos reports that Ivar’s Fish Bar, a seafood restaurant chain in Seattle, will stop taking TIPs from customers and raise its employees’ minimum wage to $15 per hour. Of course, they will have to raise prices, which many critics of an increased minimum wage claim will kill small businesses. Not really. The price increase will be 4%, which is much less than most customers would leave as a tip. Rather than paint this as a situation where one or more parties lose, it’s a win-win for all concerned. Employee get a raise. Customers pay less. Finally, the business earns good will with its customers and employees. Ivar’s Fish Bar shows that American businesses can pay a living wage.
The founder of McDonald's Ray Kroc showed deep wisdom when he said, "If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours."
Love what you do, and serve your customer. It's easy to say those words, but often hard to follow up on them. Money pushes us to occupations that we really don't want to do. Over the last 13 years, several of my clients have told me they don't want to be in sales or management, but: "That's where the money is." Some polls I've read say that a third of doctors would change careers if they could. The problem? Income.
What can you do if you're in such a position? Forget about the money and focus on your customer. If you are doing a service to someone else (which includes internal customers like students, co-workers, and even bosses), you will find some meaning and satisfaction in your work -- and you get to keep the money. However, if you don't get satisfaction from serving your customer, it is time to think about changing careers. As Ray Kroc said, money in itself is never enough. Success is not the ability to buy things. It is the ability to be excited in doing your work and taking pride in how it helps others.
Walmart announced that it will raise its minimum hourly wage to $9 and increase that wage to $10 next year. It’s great that the company has made this move on its own. However, will this raise really change the lives of its workers? A person making $9 an hour will still be earning about $20,000 a year – if she is working full time. If the worker is a parent, she will certainly still need public aid for food and housing. In essence, working people and the middle class will continue to be underwriting Walmart’s work force. We need to establish a living wage and commit ourselves as citizens to paying a little extra so we can all live decent lives.
David Cay Johnston is one of my favorite writers on economics. He presents complex issues in language that is easy to follow and compelling to read. In a commentary published by Al Jazeera, Johnston notes that the recent growth in the U.S economy has not led to a growth in income reported on income taxes. In fact, average income reported dropped from $63,297 in 2012 to $61,668 in 2013. Johnson also presents a chart that tracks labor’s share of income since WWII. Since 2001, capital has been taking a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. He points to political factors, such as the outsourcing of factory jobs due to trade deals. He cites President Obama’s 2011 deal with South Korea as costing “thousands of manufacturing jobs.” He also demonstrates that all working people have been losers recently. While those making $250,000 or more a year did see a 4.8% increase in their reported income in 2013, their total income fell by 8.6% and average income by 12.8%.
What’s the moral of the story? The investor class is king. Workers are more productive than ever. Unemployment is down. Somehow, reported income is declining for all working people. As Johnston warns at the end of his commentary, “The American economy is getting bigger, but average incomes are shrinking. If that trend continues, it will eventually spell economic, social and political trouble for the country.” Johnston’s words frighten me more than ISIL. The real terror is economic.
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