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A Question About Non-Wage Benefits for Nonsupervisory Workers

Posted By Don Boudreaux On September 1, 2006 @ 4:37 pm In Standard of Living | Comments Disabled

In his NYT column today, Paul Krugman returns [1] to one of his favorite themes: the unjust suffering of ordinary Americans whose incomes, Krugman insists, haven’t risen in 30 years.

Consider this part of Krugman’s column:

The stagnation of real wages — wages adjusted for inflation —
actually goes back more than 30 years. The real wage of nonsupervisory
workers reached a peak in the early 1970’s, at the end of the postwar
boom. Since then workers have sometimes gained ground, sometimes lost
it, but they have never earned as much per hour as they did in 1973.

Meanwhile,
the decline of employer benefits began in the Reagan years, although
there was a temporary improvement during the Clinton-era boom. The most
crucial benefit, employment-based health insurance, has been in rapid
decline since 2000.

I wonder — not sarcastically, but sincerely — where Krugman’s data on employee benefits come from.  After spending too much time fruitlessly scouring the BLS site for such data, I asked the BLS for such data.  I was told that the BLS "does not provide either total compensation nor non-wage benefits for non-supervisory workers.  We produce only earnings data for non-supervisory workers."

The BLS does have a data series on annual-percentage-rate changes in real total compensation for all nonfarm employees.  (Russ cited it in this recent post [2]; it’s Series #PRS85006152.)  According to this series real nonfarm-worker total compensation has increased about 40 percent since December 1973 — but much or all of this increase might be due to increases in real compensation paid only to the economy’s most bodaciously rich workers.

But who knows?  How does Krugman know?  (Again, I am here not accusing him of having no basis for his claim; I just want to know what that basis is — because it isn’t the BLS.)  Can someone direct me to a reliable source of data on either the real total compensation of nonsupervisory workers, or on the real value of nonwage benefits paid to nonsupervisory workers?

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[1] Paul Krugman returns: http://select.nytimes.com/2006/09/01/opinion/01krugman.html

[2] this recent post: http://cafehayek.com/2006/08/catering_to_ign.html

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