Steve Chapman

The mistake made by the School of Gloom is looking only at wages, narrowly defined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, fell by 4 percent between 1975 and 2005. But those figures deceive because they omit fringe benefits like health insurance, pensions and paid leave, which make up a bigger share of total compensation than before. The numbers also rely on a mismeasure of inflation.

When those flaws are corrected, a very different trend leaps off the page. Median wages, says Fitzgerald, rose 28 percent between 1975 and 2005. Nor were the gains restricted to Bill Gates and Hannah Montana: Significant gains occurred in the middle as well.

The same pattern holds for households. The figures that suggest families are struggling to stay even overlook some types of income, and they don't account for the fact that households have gotten smaller on average. After accounting for such things, Fitzgerald found that "inflation-adjusted median household income for most household types increased by roughly 44 percent to 62 percent from 1976 to 2006."

None of this alters the fact that some people have done worse. Domestic and global competition, which raise living standards, also spell trouble for many companies and workers. A 50-year-old who loses a $30-an-hour job on the Chevy assembly line may never find anything comparable. But the steady, broad rise in living standards makes it clear that -- at least until recent months -- our economy consistently spawns more good jobs than it destroys.

Thanks to American capitalism, ordinary workers and families are better off today than they were a decade or a generation ago. In the midst of scary economic times, that's a heartening fact to keep in mind. Even if certain Democrats would rather you didn't.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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