Good news, but not great.
80% of the wage gains since 2008 have gone to the top 20% of wage earners, meaning those earning $190,000 a year or more (this is despite recent government allegations that top tech firms in Silicon Valley have conspired to hold down their employee wages).
In other words, the vast bulk of the workforce still isn’t as well off as six years ago.
In addition, the unemployment situation remains stubbornly high.
My conclusion is that what we have now is about as good as it gets in the domestic economy, without policy action from Washington.
Two data points suggest that structural changes in the world economy are at the root of a lot of this:
–the decline in the fortunes of the middle class in the US coincides with an improvement in the lot of the middle class in emerging markets, and
–anecdotal accounts are circulating of firms filling their vacancies by poaching from rivals, which would suggest we’re close to full employment. I heard economist Paul Krugman the other day saying that the basic problem in the US is that there are too few jobs. He means that necessity isn’t forcing employers to hire unskilled workers and train them. In a sense, that may be right. On the other hand, how long will it take and how much will it cost to train an average high school graduate to become a statistician or a web designer? Why not relocate to a place where skilled workers are more plentiful and corporate taxes are lower (the latter meaning just about anyplace else)?
The current domestic economic situation says, I think, that we should continue to focus on companies with worldwide, rather than simply US, businesses. We should also avoid firms that cater to domestic customers with average or below-average incomes. These will only be able to grow revenues by “stealing” them from competitors–persistent price wars will break out, in other words.
At the same time, this state of affairs has been around long enough that we should also be scanning the horizon for evidence of change. I suspect that changes in education/training will come informally–not through intelligent government action–and will sort of sneak up on us. On the other hand, reduction of the Federal corporate tax rate to a level more in line with the rest of the world would probably give a surprisingly large spur to job formation (more about this tomorrow).