In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal the political liberal Thomas Frank paints a Depression-era picture of American workers and households.
“Real hourly wages for most workers … have risen only 1% since 1979,” he writes. Median “non-elderly” household income is down since 2000. Americans work more hours per year than their counterparts in other industrialized countries. The phrase “modern American slave labor” even finds its way into his column. All this reminds Frank of “those what-if stories in which Hitler wins World War II. Could this really have happened to my country?”
What is to blame for this “disaster”? According to Frank, “tax cuts, trade agreements, deregulatory measures, and enforcement decisions all finely crafted to benefit one part of society and leave the rest of us behind.”
Facts on the ground show a far different America. In a study from last October, titled “Trading Up,” I found that expanding trade and trade agreements have actually lifted the living standards of most Americans. Consider a few facts that directly contradict Frank’s doom-saying:
- In the past decade, the average hourly real compensation—wages and benefits adjusted for inflation—earned by American workers is up 22 percent.
- Median household income for all Americans (what, don’t the elderly count, too?) is up 6 percent in the past decade.
- The share of American households earning LESS than $35,000 a year continues to fall.
- The median net worth of American families, adjusted for inflation, is up by more than one-third since the mid-1990s.
- Total employment is up by 16.5 million and the unemployment rate is down. (And since when did liberals find it objectionable that Americans seem to have plenty of work to do?)
Critics of free markets and free trade may find it politically expedient to paint a grim picture of economic “stagnation,” but in the real world Americans continue to progress.