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Posts Tagged ‘real wage increases’

Sticky wages in America

The recession caused a large rise in unemployment in many countries. In the USA the rise has been particularly steep, where unemployment now stands at 14.5 million, or 9.8% of the labour force. Unemployment has continued to rise despite renewed growth in the US economy, where the latest annual real GDP growth is 2.6% (measured in Q3 2010). The rise in unemployment has been blamed on ‘sticky wages’ – i.e. the reluctance of wage rates to fall.

But are wages genuinely sticky as far as the average worker is concerned? They may be in many specific jobs with specific employers, but many workers made redundant then find work in different jobs at lower rates of pay. For them, their wage has fallen, even if particular jobs are paying the same as before.

So what are the consequences of this? Does the willingness of workers to accept lower paid jobs mean that the labour market is flexible and that people will thus price themselves into work? If so, why is employment still rising? Or does a reduction in real wages for many people dampen spending and hence aggregate demand, thereby reducing the demand for labour? If so, why is GDP rising?

The following articles look at the apparent stickiness of wages and the implications for the labour market and the macroeconomy.

Articles
Downturn’s Ugly Trademark: Steep, Lasting Drop in Wages Wall Street Journal, Sudeep Reddy (11/1/11)
The Causes of Unemployment Seeking Alpha, Brad DeLong (13/1/11)
Sticky, sticky wages The Economist blogs: Free Exchange, R.A. (11/1/11)
The Causes of Unemployment New York Times blogs: Wonkish, Paul Krugman (16/1/11)
America’s union-bashing backlash Guardian, Paul Harris (5/1/11)

Data
Federal Reserve Economic Data: FRED Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (US macroeconomic datasets)
United States GDP Growth Rate Trading Economics
US unemployment statistics Bureau of Labor Statistics

Questions

  1. Why might nominal wages be sticky downwards in specific jobs in specific companies?
  2. Why might nominal average wages in the economy not be sticky downwards?
  3. Why is unemployment rising in the USA?
  4. Why might there be a problem of hysteresis in the USA that provides an explanation of the reluctance of unemployment to fall?
  5. Why might a fall in wages end up being contractionary?
  6. What lessons can be learned from the Great Depression about cures for unemployment?
  7. How might unemployment be brought down in the USA?
  8. Why may making wages somewhat more flexible, as opposed to perfectly flexible, not be a good thing?
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Bosses gain – workers’ pain

Two reports released by Incomes Data Services tell dramatically contrasting stories about pay in the UK. One report focuses on average pay in the public and private sectors, which are both likely to fall in real terms in 2011. Most public-sector workers will see a freeze in their wages and, whilst private-sector workers’ pay could rise by an average of 3%, this will still be below the rate of inflation. The press release Pay awards may rise but will trail inflation (6/1/11) to the report stated that:

Private sector pay settlements in 2011 could well be higher than in 2010, as long as the economic recovery remains on track. But following the latest increase in VAT, they are likely to trail inflation, meaning that the cost of living may be set to rise faster than average pay settlements for the second year running.

However, the press release to an earlier report, FTSE-100 bosses see earnings rise 55% (29/10/10), stated that:

FTSE-100 directors saw their total earnings boosted by an average of 55% while across the FTSE 350 as a whole total board pay went up by an average 45%, according to the latest Directors Pay Report, published by Incomes Data Services. (Year to June 2010)

On the back of these increases FTSE 100 chief executives took home £4.9 million on average in total earnings during the year.

Meanwhile, there is continuing public outcry over the levels of bank pay and bonuses. Despite billions of pounds of public money having been poured into banks to prevent their collapse, bank bosses are set to receive huge remuneration packages worth several million pounds in some cases. And, despite being condemned by the government, it seems there is little it can do to curb them.

So what are the causes of the growing income divide between those at the top and everyone else? And what are the economic consequences? The following articles explore the issues.

Articles: IDS reports
Year of pain predicted for workers.. while bosses’ salaries continue to grow Daily Record, Magnus Gardham (7/1/11)
Another 12 months of pay freeze misery for workers… but bosses enjoy a huge 55% salary increase Daily Mail, Becky Barrow (6/1/11)
Private-sector pay set to trail behind inflation People Management, Michelle Stevens (6/1/11)
Private pay deals to lag behind inflation Financial Times, Brian Groom (6/1/11)
UK boardroom pay rises 55% in an age of austerity Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/10)
Private sector pay ‘to trail inflation’ in 2011 BBC News (6/1/11)
Staff morale warning over bosses’ pay rises Independent, Jon Smith (6/1/11)
‘Dose of reality’ call over top pay BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston, Brendan Barber and Garry Wilson (6/1/11)
‘Severe squeeze’ on average pay BBC Today Programme, Ken Mulkearn (Editor of the Incomes Data Services pay review) (6/1/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.7% BBC News , Ian Pollock (18/1/11)

Articles: bankers’ bonuses
Bank bonuses ‘to run to billions in 2011′ BBC News, (7/1/11)
Cameron says banks ‘should pay smaller bonuses’ BBC News, (9/1/11)
David Cameron warns RBS over bonuses Guardian, (9/1/11)
Banks say ‘no’ to bonus backdown Management Today, Andrew Saunders (7/1/11)
Banks to pay out billions in bonuses BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (6/1/11)
Why government can’t stop big bonus payments BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (7/1/11)
Diamond: ‘I am compelled to pay big bonuses’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (11/1/11)

Data
Average Weekly Earnings Incomes Data Services

Questions

  1. Why are average earnings likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2011?
  2. Why were the directors of the FTSE 100 companies paid an average 55% pay increase for the year to October 2010?
  3. To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the huge increases of bosses of top companies?
  4. If remuneration committees base executive pay increases on the average of the top 25% of increases of equivalent people in other companies (to stop ‘poaching’), what will be the implications for executive pay rises over time?
  5. What market failures are there in determining executive pay?
  6. What will be the implications for staff morale if their earnings are falling in real terms while their bosses are receiving huge pay increases? Should these implications be taken into account when deciding executive remuneration packages?
  7. Are shareholders in FTSE 100 companies likely to welcome the pay increases of their top executives? If so, why? If not, why not?
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