The Path of Wage Growth and Unemployment
Mary C. Daly, Bart Hobijn, and Timothy Ni
July 15, 2013
After the Great Recession, the fraction of U.S. workers whose wages were frozen reached a record high. Many employers would have preferred to cut wages, but couldn’t do so because of the reluctance of workers to accept reduced compensation. These pent-up wage cuts initially propped up wage growth, reduced hiring, and pushed up unemployment. But, over the past 2½ years, inflation has eroded the real value of frozen wages, slowing wage growth and reducing the unemployment rate. This is similar to, but more pronounced than, the pattern observed in past recessions.
During the most recent recession the unemployment rate jumped 5.6 percentage points, but wage growth slowed only modestly. The economy has been recovering for four years and unemployment has declined considerably, but wage growth has continued to slow. These patterns contradict standard economic models that hold that unemployment and wage growth normally are tightly related and move in opposite directions.
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