It all depends on what the meaning of "stagnant wages" is: BREAKING: Children who are born today are destined to age very slowly—at exactly our-fourth the rate of everybody else!
Also, Times subscribers continue to share and discuss the dating behavior of Lindsay Crouse's ex-boyfriend!
You read it here and nowhere else! On today's page A3 (print editions only), the feature called "The Conversation" does indeed start as shown, in classic Groundhog Day fashion:
The ConversationIf we can believe what we read in the Times, the dilemma created by Crouse's ex-boyfriend continues to attract the concern of the rational animal. To recall the shape of yesterday's list, you can just click this.
FOUR OF THE MOST READ, SHARED AND DISCUSSED POSTS FROM ACROSS NYTIMES.COM
1) Coronavirus Live Updates: Global Risk Is "Very High," W.H.O. Says as Epidemic Spreads
The day's live briefing about the coronavirus was once again the top story on Friday...
2) My Ex-Boyfriend's New Girlfriend is Lady Gaga
"How do you compare yourself with Lady Gaga?" asks Lindsay Crouse in this Opinion article, which was again among the day's most read on Friday.
Does the boyfriend topic seem a bit light? For what it's worth, the third and fourth topics on today's list are these:
3) The Leopard Cub With the Lioness MomCrouse's ex-friend and the Lioness Mom—and also, just say no!
The lions and leopards of Gir National Park, in Fujarat, India, normally do not get along. But about a year ago...
4) No, Not Sanders, Not Ever
In this Opinion article, the columnist David Brooks makes an argument against Senator Bernie Sanders...
Just say no to Sanders! These are the topics the Times presents as most read, most shared, most discussed.
We offer these facts without comment. As we prepare to say goodbye to much of all this, let's consider a murky concept—the concept of "stagnant wages."
Stagnant wages are known to be bad. But what are people talking about when they talk about "stagnant wages?"
As with most of our standard statistical artifacts, very few people could tell you. The phrase is tossed around in partisan fights, though few people could really explain whether our wages, such as they are, are actually stagnant at all.
How stagnant are our stagnant wages? A recent post by Kevin Drum helps us unpack the familiar though murky concept.
Drum's post starts as shown below. We include his headline:
DRUM (2/28/20): The Great Income Decline Is RealDrum has heard some people questioning the familiar claim that middle-class incomes have been stagnant.
For some reason I’ve recently seen a little spate of skepticism over the notion that middle-class incomes have been stagnant for quite a while. I suppose this is a reaction to Bernie Sanders, who certainly has a habit of making things sound a little more catastrophic than they really are. But that’s no reason to doubt the basic fact of income stagnation—at least for some people.
Here are the figures from the Census Bureau for men of different ages:
He says the great income decline is real. But what does that actually mean?
After the bit of text we've posted, Drum presents an instructive graphic. It shows median annual income (adjusted for inflation) for men of four different age ranges, dating from the late 1940s on through 2018.
Have wages (or income) for these men been stagnant? Have incomes been in decline? Consider men who were in the 45-54 age range as of 2018.
According to Kevin's graphic, men in this age group earned something like $58,000, on average, in 2018. Adjusted for inflation, that's roughly what their counterparts—previous groups in that same age range—had been earning since 1970.
Back in 1975, men who were 45-54 years old were earning roughly that same amount. That's what a person can sensibly mean with a claim about "stagnant wages." After adjusting for inflation, these 50-year-old men today are earning no more than their counterparts did over the past fifty years.
How terrible is that state of affairs? Everyone gets to decide! But that's what a sensible claim about stagnant wages might mean.
What can't such a claim sensibly mean? A sensible claim can't mean this:
A sensible claim can't mean that men who are 50 years old today are earning no more than they themselves earned when they were younger. Consider a basic example:
Mathematically, men who were 45-54 years old in 2018 were 25-34 years old in 1998. And what was that cohort earning back then? According to Kevin's graphic, men who were 25-34 years old were earning something like $45,000, on average, in that earlier year.
In short, the average man in this group has seen his income rise from $45,000 in 1998 to $58,000 today. In that sense, his wages haven't been "stagnant," let alone "in decline."
Does any such erudition matter? Actually no, it does not.
You rarely hear anything in our discourse which isn't built around confusion, misdirection, conflation or simple misstatement. Given the way our brains are wired, and given the way our institutions work, there's nothing anyone will ever say which is ever going to change that.
Bernie Sanders to the side, we liberals like to say that wages have been stagnant, full stop. We like to say that because it suggests that income inequality, and the "rigging" of our economic system, are especially bad.
We often talk about wage stagnation in ways which don't exactly make sense. This will sometimes encourage The Others to decide that we can't be trusted.
Our statements are often misleading. But that's the way our failing discourse routinely works. In fact, our failing discourse works that way all the whole freaking way down!
Friend, are you a man in the 45-54 year age range? If so, then you, on average, are earning substantially more than you did twenty years ago.
On the other hand, you aren't earning more than men of that age were earning, on average, over the course of the past fifty years. In that sense, wages have been stagnant. In the other sense, they've grown.
Over the course of our 22 years at this site, we've learned One Big Thing. Distinctions like these are light years beyond the capacity of our discourse. Our discourse runs on bullroar, error, posing and spin, and it always will.
(Anthropologists says this enabled Donald J. Trump—future anthropologists, that is. Like others warehoused in the academy, contemporary anthropologists rarely attempt to serve.)
We now return to our regularly scheduled broadcasting, in which our journalists spend hours on end speculating about the way different groups of people might vote somewhere next week.
Also, in which we the people—we rational animals—share our thoughts about Crouse's ex-boyfriend and about the leopard cub who has the lioness mom.
Starting Monday: When the authors of best-sellers posture, pose, thunder and flail