Signs of the (Labor Day) Times


The New York Times had a nice amalgam of labor stories for Labor Day.


Greenhouse, Steven. 2006. “Borrowers We Be.” New York Times (3 September).

“… debt payments now consume 19.4 percent of the income of the average American family, and 23 percent of the families in the bottom two-fifths of families by income devote at least 40 percent of their income to debt payments. With debt burdens so high, some economists fear a new wave of foreclosure and personal bankruptcies now that interest rates have climbed.”

“Household debt rose to 132 percent of disposable income last year, partly because many Americans have pushed their credit card debt to the max and because many, including many high-income Americans, have piled on the mortgage debt. Last year, for the first time since the Depression, the personal savings rate for the nation fell below zero, meaning that Americans are spending more than they are earning (and are saving no money on a net basis).”


Leonhardt, David. 2006. “Pockets Half Empty, or Half Full.” New York Times (3 September).

“Incomes rose last year, thanks largely to higher Social Security payments and investment returns, the bureau said last week. But median earnings failed to keep pace with inflation for a second straight year. Even as the economy has continued to grow recently, some workers have accepted outright pay cuts, men have dropped out of the labor force, and debt has kept rising relative to income.”

“The census report, for instance, showed strong income growth last year only at the 95th percentile of the distribution, which covers families making $166,000 a year. Even at the 90th percentile, as well as the 50th and further down, according to the Labor Department, pay increases have trailed inflation over the last three years.”


Uchitelle, Louis. 2006. “Here, Take Back Some of My Pay, It’s Too Much.” New York Times (3 September).

“A number is missing. No one knows how many American workers have agreed to accept, however reluctantly, a cut in their wages or benefits or both in recent years. The government tracks unemployment, job creation, layoffs, hours worked, average hourly pay and various other aspects of employment. But it doesn’t add up the number of people who have forfeited big chunks of their pay and benefits, and neither do unions or academic researchers.”

“That was true of layoffs until the early 1980’s, when the Rust Belt experience, and the devastating loss of blue-collar factory jobs, became a political issue. Congress, in response, asked the Bureau of Labor Statistics to count the layoffs in national surveys. The tally: at least 30 million full-time workers have been laid off over more than two decades.”

“Keeping a job, but losing 15 or 20 percent of a salary and most of a pension, is a painful experience — and certainly not good for consumer spending. Still, there has not been enough political pressure for an accurate count of those affected. That is partly because many workers and unions have agreed to the concessions to preserve jobs.”

“None of our earnings surveys show these concessions,” said Thomas L. Nardone, an assistant commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “We just don’t track that number.”


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