Average wages have increased, but a stagnant median wage means that only those already earning high incomes are getting a raise.
A new set of wage statistics indicates the median wage for Americans has dropped to its lowest level since 1998, indicating low-wage earners have been left out of the Great Recession recovery while the incomes of the nation’s highest earners continue to grow near-exponentially.
The trend, reported on Al Jazeera America, is based on the median income — the middle number of the data set — in the U.S. today. As of last year, the median wage was $27,519. That’s the lowest it’s been since 1998, when the median income was $26,984.
This, according to David Cay Johnston, a tax analyst, author and freelance writer, indicates the growing divide between the nation’s rich and poor.
The average income today in the U.S. is quite different than the median income — as of 2012, the average income was $42,498, a 1 percent increase from the year prior. That might seem like an indication that American workers are doing alright, yet that’s not the case.
More than 67 percent of Americans earned less than the average. That’s up from 65.9 percent in 2000.
“When the average wage grows but the median wage stagnates, it means that, statistically, only workers in the top half of the job market are experiencing increases,”Johnston wrote. “My analysis of SSA data shows the growth is mostly in the top quarter, which starts at just under $50,000 in annual pay.”
For those aiming to decrease the growing wage gap, that’s not good news.
Ned Barnett, writing for the News Observer, cited the International Revenue Service when indicating that America’s wealthiest 10 percent earned half of the U.S. overall income in 2012.
Meanwhile, those working in the nation’s lowest-paying jobs are rallying for equal wages. Fast-food workers were perhaps the most vocal organized group of workers, demanding throughout the nation that they be paid a livable wage.
According to a University of California Labor Center and University of Illinois study, more than half of all fast-food workers had to rely on public assistance to make ends meet, costing taxpayers in the end.
This, all while the nation’s top 10 percent earn half of U.S. income. Times are also good for those earning more than $5 million a year, a population that has increased by 27 percent since 2011. Those who fall into that category experienced an extreme rise in wages from 2011, by up to 40 percent — a rate 13 times higher than the rest of the nation’s workers.