Wages

The vast majority of American households’ income comes from what workers receive in their paychecks – which is why wages are so important. Unfortunately, wages for most workers grew exceptionally slowly between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity—which essentially measures the economy’s potential for providing rising living standards for all—rising 64 percent. In other words, most Americans, even those with college degrees, have only been treading water—despite working more productively (and being better educated) than ever.

EARN groups provide key research and policy analysis describing how these trends have played out at the state and local levels, and what policymakers can do about it.

Publications

The State of Low-Wage Employment in Colorado

While Colorado’s economy has grown at a brisk pace since the Great Recession and hundreds of thousands of new jobs have been created, a significant amount of jobs in the state barely pay enough to let those who work them make ends meet. Since low-wage jobs make up more than 1/4 of all jobs statewide, it’s important to understand who the workers that fill them are and how those jobs affect the broader economy. This report, which updates previous CFI research from 2015 and 2017, shines a light on these questions and offers some insight into how Colorado compares with other states and the rest of the country as a whole.

With the Labor Day holiday right around the corner, and as Colorado’s statewide minimum wage is set to rise once again in January of 2020 – along with local governments gaining the power to increase their own minimum wage levels above the statewide minimum – policymakers and the public should use these findings as a guide to better understand how the minimum wage works in Colorado.

The State of Working Wisconsin 2019: Fact & Figures

  • August 30, 2019
  • COWS
  • Laura Dresser & Joel Rogers

Each year on Labor Day, COWS draws a picture of how working people in Wisconsin are faring. The long report, The State of Working Wisconsin, is released biannually on even-numbered years and looks at the economy comprehensively from a working-family perspective. In odd-numbered years, like 2019, we provide a more abbreviated and focused report, called The State of Working Wisconsin: Facts & Figures.

On some of the most well-known economic indicators, there is good news for Wisconsin workers. The unemployment rate in the state has been consistently low. The economy is steadily adding jobs. These are important measures for working people’s lives. When jobs are more available not only is it easier to secure a job, it is also easier to get the hours of work you want, to be able to ask for time-off you need, and to make ends meet. This Labor Day, with the memory of the Great Recession of 2007 now fading from memory, workers across Wisconsin have this good news to celebrate.

Even so, many working families in the state feel stressed and stretched. In this report, then, we provide information on few key long-term trends that are contributing to the stress even in the context of low unemployment. Looking across the last forty years, the challenges working people face are clear. Wage growth has been anemic. Income inequality is reaching new highs. Unions, which have been so critical to supporting workers in this state, are in serious decline. Additionally, state policy, which could be helping to close gaps, is actually exacerbating these trends. From tax changes that reward our highest income families to rejection of health insurance to cover our families in need, policy continues to pave the low-road for our state.

State of Working Pennsylvania 2019

In just the past few weeks, leading American business leaders appear to have experienced a sudden and surprising bout of conscience. On Monday, August 19, the Business Roundtable, which represents the largest U.S. corporations, issued a statement signed by 181 CEOs that embraced stakeholder capitalism—the idea that corporations have obligations to employees, the community, and customers, as well as shareholders. On the next day, Tom Wilson, the chair of the executive committee of the U.S. Chamber published an op-ed titled “Save Capitalism by Paying People More.” Wilson acknowledges in blunt terms that ordinary working Americans aren’t flourishing economically. (For excerpts from Wilson’s op-ed, see Box 1 near the end of this report.)

This year’s annual “The State of Working Pennsylvania” documents the accuracy of Wilson’s observation in Pennsylvania. To be sure, this report does have a bit of good news. In 2018, for the first time since 2001, Pennsylvania workers enjoyed wage increases across the board—3.1% on average across the entire wage distribution (i.e. from the 10th percentile to the 90th percentile). These gains reflect what is now the longest economic expansion in U.S. history and an unemployment rate in Pennsylvania below 4% for the first time since before 1976.

Acknowledging this progress, the longer-term picture remains one of meager gains for workers. Over the last economy cycle, from the 2007 peak to 2018, the annual average increase in the Pennsylvania median wage has been less than half a percent. Even now, some slack remains within the Pennsylvania job market, which helps explain why wages in this expansion took so long to kick up. Underemployment remains above the 2007 pre-Great Recession level and the employment rate (share of adults aged 20 and over employed) remains below the 2007 level. If the employment rate today were at the 2007 level, Pennsylvania would have another roughly 150,000 jobs. Looking over a longer period, since 1973, the top 1% in Pennsylvania received 46% of the total increase in income in the state.

Valuing Families at Work: The Case for Paid Sick Leave in New Mexico

Half of all workers in New Mexico cannot earn paid sick leave and have to either go to work when they or a family member is sick or stay home and lose pay. This is the highest rate in the nation. Because the federal government has no paid sick leave policy, several states and municipalities have enacted paid sick leave policies but paid sick leave legislation for New Mexico stalled during the most recent legislative session. The report looks at which sectors (among other employer demographics) are most and least likely to offer paid sick leave. The report concludes that statewide paid sick leave and paid family leave laws would go far to ensuring all New Mexico workers and their families have opportunities to lead healthier lives and are crucial to building the strong workforce our state needs to support a thriving economy.