Fast-food and other employees across the country have been striking and protesting for higher wages, arguing that they can’t live on the minimum wage. Their protests have drawn attention in an economic recovery where data show that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing.
Friday’s jobs numbers show that the pay gap is continuing throughout industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks wages of all private-sector employees, but also breaks down wages of production and non-supervisory employees, which are “employees who are not owners or who are not primarily employed to direct, supervise, or plan the work of others.”
Those workers make up 80% of the workforce, but their wages are growing more sluggishly than the wages of the whole workforce, which also includes supervisors and owners, data show.
For all private-sector employees, for instance, average hourly earnings grew to $24.01, from $23.50 a year ago, a 2.17% increase. The wages of production and nonsupervisory employees grew to $20.14, from $19.75 a year ago, a 1.97% increase. The data for all employees includes the production employees, so even though the difference may seem small, it would be much greater if the production employees were taken out.
In construction, all employees saw wages grow to $26.17 from $25.74, a 1.67% increase, compared to production employees’ wages growing 1.33%, from $23.95 to $24.27. And in trade and transportation, all employees’ wages grew 0.9%, while production employees’ wages grew only 0.3% over the year.
When adjusted for inflation, the wages of production and nonsupervisory employees have grown just 2.2% in the last decade.
The trend is unlikely to change until there are fewer available workers looking for jobs. Employers have no incentive to raise pay for production workers unless they are worried that their employees might leave to find better jobs, and that they won’t be able to find replacements. With 12 million people unemployed, that may not happen soon.