For a long time, a very VERY long time, the idea of class warfare has been one of the rich taking advantage of the non-rich for the rich’s personal gain. These days, you have the opposite phenomenon. You have people in America that feel there is a class war being waged, but not by the rich on the poor, but by the Left on the rich.
In response to this accusation, the Left is quick to point out this data:
But is this true?
How does this work?
The three data series are in fact quite different in terms of how they adjust for inflation, what labor income each includes, which workers they cover and other measurement issues. In short, Figures 1 and 2 compare wage rates that are not really comparable-an apples-to-oranges comparison…
So, how can we make a more apples-to-apples comparison?
The first step in moving toward an apples-to-apples comparison is to deflate all series using the same price index. I’ve chosen the PCE deflator because it provides a consistent series back to 1975 and because it reflects the basket of final goods and services that people consumed each year.
And what does that look like?
Using the PCE deflator for all series therefore changes the growth rates noticeably. Average hourly earnings now increase by 10 percent rather than declining by 4 percent. Median hourly wage rises 20 percent rather than 12 percent. Almost a third of the difference in growth rates between the national labor income series and the two microeconomic wage series vanishes simply by using the same measure of inflation.
A totally different picture than is painted by the original data. However, we’re not done. Money is only a portion of the means of compensation. Vacation, insurance, training and sick days are ALL methods that employers are able to compensate employees. Does the picture change when we factor in those methods?
Fringe benefits have become an increasingly important part of employee compensation over the past 30 years. The BLS estimates that benefits currently account for about 30 percent of employer costs for employee compensation. While the BLS does not provide similar estimates for 1975, other sources suggest that the benefit share of total compensation has risen substantially. For example, the Economic Benefits Research Institute estimates that health care as a share of total compensation rose from 3.3 percent in 1975 to 8.5 percent in 2005.
National labor income per hour, on the other hand, does include wage supplements (benefits) as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis national income and product accounts. NIPA wage supplements include employer contributions to employee pension and insurance funds and employer contributions to government social insurance, but exclude benefits such as paid leave that are included in the BLS estimate mentioned above. Wage supplements per hour rose a substantial 90 percent from 1975 to 2005 and increased as a share of total NIPA compensation, wages and salary plus supplements, from 14.2 percent in 1975 to 19.4 percent in 2005.
The next step in making the wage series comparable, then, is to add benefits per hour to the existing series on average hourly earnings and the median hourly wage. Unfortunately, precise data on benefits at the individual level are not readily available. To get a sense of the magnitude of the impact of including benefits, I estimate benefits per hour for these series based on NIPA data.
And what does this look like?
This overview is only the first in a series of reports from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve that looks at this topic. There are more reports in the series and I’ll review each here. However, the point is one that I have made over and over again.
The Left is lying when they tell you that the non-rich have been abused. Life for the non-rich is much better today than it was yesterday. And any statement to the contrary should be viewed with the skeptisism appropriate for politicians looking to coalesce power.