Democrats Need to Pivot From Jobs and Focus on Wages

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released their June report this morning with the news that the economy added 213,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4 percent as more people entered the job market. Here’s how the First Daughter responded:

In a further attempt to politicize the news, a headline at the Washington Examiner reads: “Dems blast booming jobs report, Trump worker agenda, ‘reckless.’” That is based on statements released by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and DNC Chair Tom Perez. The “Trump worker agenda” that these two Democratic leaders called reckless specifically addressed the president’s trade wars, tax cuts for the wealthy and the latest union-busting Supreme Court decision.

But here’s the part of the jobs report that we should all be focused on right now:

Wage growth stayed at 2.7 percent, the same pace as last month, and the average since last December. It is also worth noting that inflation is now growing at about the same rate as wages, so, in one of the less impressive aspects of the current job market recovery, real hourly pay is flat.

Republicans can crow all they want about jobs, but as long as real hourly pay is flat, the current economic agenda isn’t working or creating opportunity for all Americans.

When Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, the economy was losing about 800,000 jobs a month due to the Great Recession. At that point, a singular focus on creating jobs was necessary. That is no longer the case. A certain base level of job creation is necessary to keep the economy strong, but that is a maintenance issue. The real problem right now is wages. The fact that, when combined with inflation, real hourly pay is flat indicates that workers can’t get ahead. Too many people are stuck in jobs that don’t pay a living wage and they’re not making any headway, even as the economic expansion that began in June 2009 enters its tenth year.

It’s true that Democrats have a lot of ideas about how to improve the economy and reduce income inequality. But the fastest and easiest first thing on the agenda needs to be an increase in the minimum wage. That is something everyone to the left of the current extremists in charge of our government can agree on. It is beyond time to put living wages at the top of the Democratic agenda.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.