Atlantic Cities

America's Jobs Dilemma: Employment Up, Wages Down

While United States employment is up, wages are declining, according to numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics [PDF]. The report covers the U.S. as a whole but, interestingly for Cities readers, includes detail on the jobs situation by county.  

Employment increased nationally by 1.6 percent, or 2 million jobs, for the year September 2011 to September 2012. But, average weekly wages for the country as a whole declined by 1.1 percent (taking the figure down to $906 per week in Q3 2012). This is one of only six annual average weekly wage declines since 1978, the report notes. Wages declined across all industries save for the information sector, which saw a modest increase of 1.3 percent.

The county-by-county breakdown follows the same trend. Employment increased in 84 percent of the largest U.S. counties over the same timeframe. Yet among these largest counties, nearly the same percent saw over-the-year declines in average weekly wages. Only 46 counties saw over-the-year increases.
 
 
The report bears on the ongoing debate over the intersection of resources and ideas in America's economic recovery, which I wrote about here on Cities a few weeks ago. The highest wages are found in knowledge-based high-tech counties in and around the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, greater New York, greater Boston, and Seattle. San Mateo County in California saw the largest increase (7.3 percent), driven by gains in professional and business services. The highest levels of job growth are found in rebounding manufacturing and resource counties in the industrial and resource belts. The biggest wage declines are occurring in older industrial counties and especially in counties dominated by low-skill, low-wage service jobs, including resort towns. Yolo County in California near Sacramento had the largest decline in wages (-7.0 percent).
 
This provides additional evidence of the lopsided nature of America's economic recovery, where the stock market surges and corporate and bank profits rise, while inequality worsens, unemployment remains stubbornly high and wages stagnate or, according to this report, sink. As my Atlantic colleague Derek Thompson noted a few weeks back:

When the economy crashes, we all crash together: corporate profits, employment, and growth. But when the economy recovers, we don't recover together. Corporations rack up historic profits thanks to strong global demand, cheap global labor, and low interest rates, while American workers muddle along, their significance to these companies greatly diminished by a worldwide market for goods and people.

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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