August 15 2011|08.00 AM UTC

Samantha Eckles

US Productivity: Do We Deserve Higher Wages?

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One of the most common complaints about work revolves around the paycheck. Almost everyone believes they deserve more, but do they really? In general, the United States pays workers high wages because of cost of living and productivity. However, there may be some evidence of a downturn in productivity. So, are US workers justified in wanting higher wages or is this a complaint that should be brushed aside?

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it seems to depend on what industry you are working in. In the transportation equipment industry, it seems that the cries for higher wages are justified. Since 1987, labor productivity has increased 2.7% annually; however, wages have only been increased .7% annually. The computer and electronic products industry seems to be similar since there has been an 11.2% annual increase in productivity with only .8% annual increase in wage.

The discrepancy is not always on the worker’s side though. In the chemicals industry and in the food industry, wages have increased much more than productivity has, meaning these workers complaints don’t have much basis.

And, not all industries are weighted on one side or the other. The plastics and rubber industry and wood products industry are just a couple where the wage increases actually line up fairly well with productivity increases.

When you look at the numbers overall though, it seems, on average, most are justified in asking for more pay. Wage increases have only increased about .9% annually since 1987 while productivity has seen a whopping 2.1% annual increase. Inflation on wages can’t even describe that difference has there has only been a very small increase in inflation since the late 80s. So, while the US may be paying its workers more than other areas, they are working hard enough to justify even more.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

F. Ellsworth Lockwood September 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm

With regard to Samantha Eckles’ article, “US Productivity: Do We Deserve Higher Wages?,” Samantha makes some interesting points. Although I cannot fault her facts and I agree with some of her conclusions, other of her conclusions are too subjective to be taken as fact. For example, she writes, “In the chemicals industry and in the food industry, wages have increased much more than productivity has, meaning these workers complaints don’t have much basis.”

Not so, in my opinion. Eckles’ opinion is based upon the fiction that “fairness in wages” equates to “stability in status quo.”

What Eckles does not take into account is that fairness can be viewed many ways, and I would argue that in some fields the wages have been kept artificially low, while in other fields the wages may be artificially propped up. Many factors go into assigning a value to a type of work, including laws, whether minimum wage laws or union-busting legislation, and so-on.

One could argue that a person digging ditches by hand in a non-unionized area is working for less than a fair wage, while many businesses have argued and still do argue that union shops are overpaid.


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