This September marks a full two years since the American economy bottomed out. And while it has taken most of that time for the actual recession to ease, the country is still waiting for signs of true growth.
For the third straight year, Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations has released its Labor Day Scorecard, a snapshot of the economic and employment picture in the country. The school’s conclusion this year: the picture is the same. But workers are paying more to be in it.
According to the report, the economic climate for American workers hasn’t improved much since last Labor Day, and they are significantly worse off on most measures than they were a decade ago. August’s unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, a mere 0.1 percent lower than last August, but nearly 2.5 times worse than August, 2000.
More worrisome, the report finds that 42 percent of the unemployed have been out of work six months or longer, more than twice the amount of long-term unemployed than just five years ago.
“It’s quite striking,” said David Finegold, dean of the SMLR. “That suggests this will be a long-term problem to be solve.” A tenuous bright spot is that mass layoffs (meaning that at least 50 workers have been laid off for more than 30 days) have been reduced by half. But that still means 650,000 layoffs.
Those lucky enough to have work with benefits are likely to start viewing their paychecks as the benefits themselves. According to the report, workers are paying more into benefits plans but are not receiving wage increases. In fact, median income is slightly down from last year. Current median weekly earnings of wage and salary workers are $744 compared to $748 last year. Five years ago, the figure was $724.
Yet workers pay an average of $779 for single and $3,515 for family health insurance coverage annually. Five years ago the figures were $670 and $2,980, respectively.
“Even at a time when corporate profits are increasing, there is little gain being shared with the workforce,” said Douglas Kruse, one of the investigators for the report. “Workers clearly are being asked to share more of the cost of benefits.”
The report also finds that things get worse for minorities, women, and disabled workers. Black, Latino, and female workers make about three-quarters what white males make, though figures for each group have increased from last year.
One bright spot in the report is that despite relatively flat earnings since last year, households have managed to lower their debt payments as a percentage of income, from 13.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009 to 12.5 percent in 2010.
As for employer-sponsored retired plans, the percentage of employees in private industry who have access to such plans is 65 percent, the same percentage as five years ago but down 2 percent from 2009.
A full copy of the report is available online at http://www.smlr.rutgers.edu/LaborScorecard2010.pdf