The January jobs report had cheery news for a lot of workers. Unemployment stayed low, at 4.1 percent, for the fourth month in a row. About 200,000 jobs were added to the economy and finally, it seems as if wages are growing, with a 2.9 percent uptick in January.
But not everyone is sharing in an improving economy. Labor-force participation was 62.7 percent for the fourth month in a row. That means over 37 percent of potential workers have given up and aren’t even counted anymore. And, the number of part-time workers who can’t find full-time work has been stuck at around five million for a year.
Although wages grew slightly, not everyone is benefiting. Women and African Americans still earn less than white men.
Even though workers have seen a nominal pay increase, wages have yet to increase at 4 percent a year, the rate they grew at before the 2008 recession. And, workers are still not getting adequately compensated for their productivity. Starting in 1973 wages no longer tracked productivity, and the gap has continued to grow: While productivity rose 73.7 percent, hourly pay has gone up only 12.5 percent.
Not everyone is losing ground; higher wage earners have seen much higher increases in wages than low-wage workers have.
Government can help more participate in a growing economy starting with closing the gender and race pay gaps by enacting tough pay antidiscrimination laws and by raising the pitiful $7.25-an-hour minimum wage.
President Trump could also support creative ways to help the dwindling middle class — or at least stop hurting it. He killed an overtime rule that would have let four million people who make up to $47,476 a year collect overtime. These are the mid-level workers who put in 60 or 70 hours a week. Now, only those making up to $23,660 can collect overtime pay. That’s lower than the poverty line of $25,110 for a family of four.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney just announced a new workforce strategy called “Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engline.” It’s geared at educating workers to keep up with changing jobs. The city will work with employers to access what skills they need and help workers get the requisite training.
Gov. Wolf wants to beef up job training and raise the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage to $12 an hour. Pennsylvania has the lowest minimum wage in the region, with Delaware’s wage set at $8.25 an hour and New Jersey’s at $8.60.
While Rutgers University economist Jennifer Hunt, a former U.S. Labor Department chief economist, notes that the January jobs report is generally optimistic, she cautions that things are fine until they’re not. The next recession, another war, rising energy costs, or unexpected events can push the economy off course.
That is why voters should call state and federal legislators and tell them it’s just as important to encourage economic growth as it is to encourage workers with healthier wages. It’s their shoulders that are holding up a healthy economy.