Vast majority of wage earners are working harder, and for not much more – Trends in U.S. work hours and wages over 1979–2007

Source: Lawrence Mishel, Economic Policy Institute, EPI issue Brief no. 348, January 30, 2013

A complete documentation of the growth of wage and benefit levels and inequality is presented in Chapter 4 of the recently released The State of Working America, 12th Edition (Mishel et al. 2012). This paper supplements that analysis by examining the growth of work hours and real hourly and annual wages by gender and wage level from 1979 to 2007.

Key findings include:
-The average worker worked 1,868 hours in 2007, an increase of 181 hours from the 1979 work year of 1,687 hours. This represents an increase of 10.7 percent—the equivalent of every worker working 4.5 additional weeks per year.
-Annual work hours grew more among women (20.3 percent) than among men (4.4 percent) from 1979 to 2007, primarily because women increased their weeks per year in the paid workforce.
-At 22.0 percent, the increase in annual hours between 1979 and 2007 was greater among workers in the lowest fifth of the wage distribution than among workers in the middle fifth (10.9 percent). It was also greater among middle-wage workers than among the top 5 percent of earners (7.6 percent).
-Real annual wages grew from 1979 to 2007, but for the bottom 60 percent of wage earners, this stemmed roughly as much from increased work hours as increased real hourly wages.
-Over 1979–2007, real hourly wages for middle-wage workers (those in the middle fifth of earners) grew 15.8 percent. Most of this wage growth occurred in the late 1990s boom (1995–2000). From 1979 to 1995 and from 2000 to 2007, the total real wage growth among this group was just 5.3 percent, equivalent to annual growth of about 0.25 percent.
-Over 1979–2007, real hourly wages for low-wage workers (those in the bottom fifth of earners) grew 7.7 percent, with most of this wage growth occurring in 1995–2000. From 1979 to 1995 and from 2000 to 2007, real wages among this group actually fell 3.2 percent.
-Over 1979–2007, the real hourly wages of the top 5 percent of earners grew by 30.2 percent—and by 14.8 percent if one excludes the 1995–2000 period.
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