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Why You’re Not Getting a Raise

Didn’t get a raise this year? Blame inflation.

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American wages didn’t budge last month, according to Labor Department data released Wednesday. And with inflation remaining at near zero, experts say it could be quite a while before many workers see their next raise.

While stagnant prices are a boon for consumers on supermarket checkout lines, they can be hard on workers’ bottom lines. Wages typically track inflation, soaring higher when prices take off. In fact, some say wages tend to feed inflation. That was the case in the 1970s, when wage growth picked up after prices soared. But pricing pressures are weaker today, with the consumer price index, a measure of inflation, unchanged in July from the previous month. The 1.4% increase from a year ago was also the smallest annual increase in nearly two years. That means companies have less pressure to raise workers’ wages, says John Lonski, a senior economist with Moody’s Capital Markets. “Cost-of-living increases have all but vanished,” says Lonski. “What companies are looking at is, What do they have to pay you to keep you from quitting your job?”

Pay is inching higher, but far more slowly than prior to the recession. The average base salary increased by 2.7% this year, the same rate as in 2011, according to a survey by human resources consulting firm Mercer. That figure was typically well over 4% in years past. And many job hunters, unable to find new positions that match previous jobs, are settling for lower-paying opportunities with fewer benefits, says Cole Wilcox, manager of the Longboard Managed Futures Strategy fund. Companies are also asking employees to work longer for the same pay in order to increase productivity without raising costs. “There’s always another person willing to do that job for a lower wage,” says Wilcox.

To be sure, employees are better off than they would be if prices started rising faster than wages. That could happen in the coming months as a crop shortage stemming from the drought pushes up prices on grains like corn, says Lonski. Gas prices, which rose in July for the first time in four months, could also creep up faster than wages in the coming months, he says. Those higher costs could leave consumers with less money to spend on nonessentials, which could hurt economic activity, he says.

Wage growth is also being hampered by reduced spending and shrinking credit card balances, experts say. Consumers hunkered down to pay off debt following the recession, a trend that continued in June when Americans’ total revolving debt fell $3.7 billion, to $864 billion, according to a report released last week by the Federal Reserve. That compares with $1 trillion in revolving debt in 2007. The fact that fewer consumers are willing to borrow to buy a new appliance or gadget lowers demand for goods, which helps to keep prices – and wages – stagnant, says Wilcox.

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    • Your logic, while widely acetepcd, isn’t necessarily accurate. The value of a piece of property only appreciates to the rate that someone is willing to pay for the property if the property is on the open market. Most people do not intend on selling their homes, nor are the valuations similar to what a party could get on the open market in most cases. Since city valuations are made on by using inexact comparable properties, i.e. a 4 bed/2 bath home to a 4 bed/2 bath home of similar build years, and not by taking into consideration the actual worth of the home on the open market. If something is not for sale, and never will be for sale, the home owners are being taxed on an illusionary increase in value that never will be recognized. This is much like a retirement account, however, those are not taxed at those appreciated rates until they are redeemed, since the actual value of the investment cannot be recognized until capitalized upon. Therefore, parties taxes on their homes, not unlike mine, have artificially risen at enormous rates without a comparable increase in my quality of life in Grand Forks.Finally, your article fails to acknowledge tax rates in surrounding communities. While I am admittedly lacking exact or concrete figures, I have been given the impression by many people that G.F. taxes are quite high. As a person who will be in G.F. for some time, I would greatly appreciate people involved in local government who are committed to slowing what I feel are unfair taxes on property.

    • I think pay increases are low because the average person is brainwashed into believing they cannot dare to challenge corporate interests, ie. we must sit quiet as a church mouse and not fight back when we get no raise or when corporate leaders send our jobs overseas. Or when small business owners in our communities hire undocumented workers right in front of us. Let’s just keep right on not standing up for each other and protecting each other.

    • Well, it’s the WSJ, so I guess it’s expected that they would tow the line. Inflation doesn’t drive wages higher; if the company has done their research right, the price point of a product should be optimized, and the only reason to change the price is to increase the profit margin or adjust for higher production costs.
      Who ever wrote this article must have an econ degree from a community college.

    • Don’t know about off-shored jobs. But if companies are
      basing wage increases off of Gov’t manipulated CPI then
      you are short-changed. Paying less for gas, healthcare,
      food, college tutition, etc …? This aged folk is still
      working to pay high cost of stuff above rather than being
      retired living on return of assets. Guess that is one
      less job available and it was in-shored.

    • lol – yeah it’s inflation, not corporations off shoring all the jobs.

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