The expectation of rising living standards, with each generation doing better than the one before, has long been a given. More recently, that expectation has diminished—and with good reason. One of the best measures economists use to determine Americans’ economic advancement is whether wages are rising, broadly and consistently. After adjusting for inflation, wages are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, with annual real wage growth just below 0.2 percent.1 The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers.
For more than a decade, The Hamilton Project has offered proposals and analyses aimed at increasing both economic growth and broad participation in its benefits. This document highlights the necessary conditions for broadly shared wage growth, trends closely related to stagnation in wages for many workers, and the recent history of wage growth, with an emphasis on the experience of the Great Recession and recovery. It concludes by discussing how public policies can effectively contribute to the growth in wages that is a core part of improving living standards for all Americans.
- Cumulative real wage growth is sensitive to the particular method of inflation adjustment. Some researchers use the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) deflator, which implies even lower real wage growth, or the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) deflator, which implies higher real wage growth (Bivens and Mishel 2015; Sacerdote 2017).