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Report: Young Workers' Wages Are Sinking

Report: Young Workers' Wages Are Sinking

Last week, we wrote about the problems faced by young workers getting jobs in this economy.

But the problem gets worse: When they do get jobs, their salaries may be significantly worse than they used to be. In fact, for young workers, it’s been a “lost decade,” a new report says.

Now some more numbers have arrived from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that reveal the extent of the problem—and how much entry-level wages for high school and college graduates are a “barometer” for what’s going on in the general economy.

EPI President Lawrence Mishel writes that

Wage losses occurred for each group of entry-level workers between 2000 and 2007, as well as during the recessionary years between 2007 and 2011. This stands in sharp contrast to the extremely strong wage growth for each of these groups from 1995 to 2000....These changes illustrate how the wages for entry-level workers vary considerably, depending on whether the overall economy is experiencing strong wage growth, or wage stagnation.

To put the wage loss described in the report in context, there’s the comparison between salaries today (in 2011 dollars) and salaries several decades ago. For men and women with a high school education in 2011, starting hourly wages were actually below their wages in 1973 or 1979.

For instance, the entry-level hourly wage of a young high school-educated man in 2011 was 25.3 percent less than that for the equivalent worker in 1979, a drop of nearly $4.00 per hour (in 2011 dollars). Among women high school graduates, the entry-level wage fell 14.2 percent over this period, representing a decline of $1.64 (in 2011 dollars).

And despite much progress for women, gender disparity still persists. So even as things are worse for male workers at the entry level, they’re even worse than that for women. 

It is important to note that wages in entry-level jobs held by high school-educated women are still far less than those for similar jobs held by their male counterparts in 2011, a gap of roughly 15 percent.

Now what about wages for college graduates entering the job market? In recent years, those have also tumbled. 

Entry-level wages fell among both women and men college graduates from 2000 to 2007, declining by 2.5 percent among men and 1.6 percent among women and tumbled further in the recessionary years after 2007. This means that young college graduates who finished their education in the past five years or so are earning significantly less than their older brothers and sisters who graduated in the late 1990s.

The conclusion drawn for is stark about the economic realities faced by those entering the job market: 

In short, in the most recent decade, the most-educated workers (college graduates) with the newest skills (young college graduates) did not fare well at all; their wage opportunities fell even as overall productivity in the economy continued to soar.

Read full reportwith lots of chartshere.

The squeeze faced by younger workers means that all workers are affected. Logically, younger workers’ diminished salaries and job prospects—and the growing expectation that they will have to work for less—put pressure on older workers, and vice versa.

But just as we noted last week, whether they’re joining up with the Occupy Wall Street movement and related local movements or coming to the AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit, young people do understand the rotten deal they’re getting from the economy and are speaking up about it.

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