The economy won't improve until wages do

Do you feel like you're working harder than ever, but your pay isn't keeping up? That's probably because you are - and it's not.

A new study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that while the productivity of the average American worker increased nearly 75 percent between 1979 and 2012, his real income during that period grew only 5 percent.

The New York Times interviewed a cashier at a KFC in Manhattan who, after eight years on the job, earns only $7.75 an hour. She hasn't had a raise since 2007.

A Wall Street Journal analysis cited three reasons for wages' stagnation beyond the recession:

Economic growth, at less than 2 percent for three straight quarters, is too low. Before the recession, it averaged 3.5 percent.

Businesses are managing payrolls differently. Many firms that laid off workers rather than cut wages during the recession are coping now by cutting wages.

Globalization continues to put pressure on wages. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2015, some industries will see only a 10 percent difference between wages in the United States and in China.

Long periods of wage stagnation, even as many in corporate America are recording record profits, are a recipe for trouble. That's not an appeal for class warfare. It's an acknowledgment that current economic trends aren't good for this country.

Labor Department data show that average hourly pay for nongovernment, nonmanagement workers declined to $8.77 an hour last month, compared with $8.85 a year earlier.

This country's consumer-based economy won't thrive again until workers can afford to spend more of their paychecks on goods and services.

Perhaps more than anything, perspectives must change. Wage increases must be seen as investments. Well-paid consumers make the purchases needed to keep the U.S. economy humming.

--The Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 27

Labor Department's new rules for hiring disabled, veterans a noble goal

In a week when the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington helped refocus the nation's attention on jobs and equality, the Labor Department issued new rules aimed at benefiting two groups the job market often overlooks.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Tuesday that most government contractors, which employ about 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, will be required to set "goals" to hire disabled workers and veterans equal to 7 percent to 8 percent of their employees.

This coincides with a 2010 executive order by President Barack Obama that called for the nation's largest employer - the federal government - to be a model for employment of people with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring and retention. His goal is the government hiring 100,000 disabled people over a five-year period.

The president has also encouraged corporations and small businesses, through tax breaks and other incentives, to hire more veterans, the heroes returning from wars and trying to reintegrate into society.

The department's aim is a noble idea, but it's already meeting some resistance from employers who see the goals as quotas and question the feasibility of meeting them when federal laws discourage inquiries about a person's disability.

The unemployment rate for disabled people is almost twice the 7.4 percent of the general workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate is 9.9 percent for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Assisting disabled people and veterans to become gainfully employed shouldn't be only a government matter, but a community-wide endeavor that involves training, additional support like transportation, and most of all, educating employers and the general society to invest in people who given the opportunity can be productive workers.

--Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 29