Wage inequality continued its 35-year rise in 2015

Over the last three-and-a-half decades, rising inequality has been a defining feature of the American economy. The way rising inequality has directly affected most Americans is through sluggish hourly wage growth in recent decades, despite an expanding and increasingly productive economy. For example, had all workers’ wages risen in line with productivity, as they did in the three decades following World War II, an American earning around $50,000 today would instead be making close to $75,000. A hugely disproportionate share of economic gains from rising productivity is going to the top 1 percent and to corporate profits, instead of to ordinary workers—who are more productive and educated than ever. This rising inequality is largely the result of big corporations and the wealthy rewriting the rules of the economy to stack the deck in their favor. This has prevented the benefits of productivity growth from “trickling down” to reach most households.

Unfortunately, although inflation-adjusted wages grew across the board in 2015 (due to a sharp dip in inflation), the trend of rising wage inequality continued unabated last year. This paper begins by detailing the most up-to-date hourly wage trends through 2015 and then examines the continued growth in inequality that began in the late 1970s. This rising inequality is confirmed by the latest wage data, analyzed across the wage distribution and education categories, including striking differences by race and gender.

– Economic Policy Institute

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