Are increasing payroll numbers enough to offset decreasing wages?

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By Jacob Maslow

Laid Off
Portrait of a young businesswoman leaving office with her belongings and colleagues in background

While a lot of analysts were happy to see that the jobs picture in the United States is continue to show signs of solidifying, the latest employment figures didn’t point to an unqualified positive picture. Much has already been said about how misleading the recent ‘slide’ in unemployment figures have been.  We’re now currently enjoying official unemployment rates north of five percent. This was unheard of in the years immediately following the Great Financial Crash of 2008. Back in the bad old days, the jobless rate seemed stuck north of ten percent. Critics say the low employment figures actually ‘hide’ the realty unemployment rate because an alarmingly large chunk of employable and employment-age Americans have given up on working altogether.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, this critique of the Obama administration’s economic and job management performance doesn’t factor in the fact that a huge percentage of Baby Boomers are now retiring. This can help explain, in large part, the seeming clash between increasing employment levels and lower workforce participation. My concern isn’t labor participation-that plays too easily into the talking points and agendas of Obama administration critics. Instead, I have an issue with the fact that most of the ‘new jobs’ being created are low wage jobs. In fact, the US job market tends to skew towards the lower end of the wage scale.
 Given these trends, isn’t it any wonder why the median middle class household income in the US is now lower than it was in 2008? This is the fly in the ointment that the Obama administration and succeeding administrations need to get a hold of. It appears much of the cushy, low education, relatively high paying jobs have evaporated. This calls into the question the very possibility of the American Dream for the Millennial and succeeding generations. Indeed, even if the US jobless rate crashes to four percent or lower, if the low wage question isn’t resolved, you’ll have lots of employed people whose dreams of enjoying a middle class lifestyle will remain a dream for a long time-if not for life. This can only spell political trouble in the future. Need proof? Check out the reasons for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
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