Despite Slowdown, Productivity, Wages Are Rising
This is the Age of the Incredible Shrinking Everything. Home prices, the stock market, G.D.P., corporate profits, employment: they’re all a fraction of what they once were. Yet amid this carnage there is one thing that, surprisingly, has continued to grow: the paycheck of the average worker. Companies are slashing payrolls: 3.6 million people have lost their jobs since the recession started, with half of those getting laid off in just the past three months. Yet average hourly wages jumped almost four per cent in the past year. It’s harder and harder to find and keep a job, but if you’ve got one you may well be making more than you did twelve months ago.
Today’s sticky wages aren’t just the result of custom, though. They’ve also stayed high because of the most unusual aspect of this recession: even as the economy has cratered, American workers have become more productive, not less. Productivity—how much output workers produce per hour of work—is the key to a healthy economy. Historically, productivity has been “procyclical”: it rose during booms and fell during recessions. But not this time. Even as the economy did a cliff dive in the last quarter, productivity rose an impressive 3.1 per cent. And since, in theory, workers get paid more the more productive they are, their increased productivity has helped them avoid pay cuts.
From James Surowiecki's article in The Atlantic, "Nice Work If You Can Get It"