Reframing The 40-Year-Long Wage Stagnation Problem In America


The title pretty much says it, but let's explain ...

We have a serious problem in America:  Workers in this country have not seen their level of compensation rise in 40 years in comparison with executive and shareholder compensation, the actual cost of living, or even their own productivity.

Our political leaders have focused on the disparity between worker and top executive compensation, referring to it as either "pay inequality," or "pay inequity," but  this has created an atmosphere of defensiveness on the part of those at the top of the corporate food chain. And this is not the atmosphere that Progressives want to engender. We know it's going to take all of us working togetherespecially those at the top—to get this problem solved.

And lagging worker compensation is a problem, not just a "discrepancy" issue or a "fairness" issue. And no one thinks the average worker and the most senior executive should be earning "equal pay" as one another. So what is the real problem?

Wage Stagnation.

From at least the mid-twentieth century until the mid 1970s, worker productivity and worker compensation traveled on the exact same path. Hard-working Americans saw their pay increase in direct proportion to their efforts. This made for a robust working and middle class in America, who had money to live on, money to spend, and money to save. When the middle class has sufficient money to live on, they only need to fall back on taxpayer-funded assistance if they hit a serious bump in the road, such as the loss of a job and the draining of all savings.

But when the average working family doesn't have sufficient wages to live on, despite full-time work, or even multiple wage-earners, they are forced into debt and reliance on state and federal assistance programs such as low-income tax credits, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and so on. Basically, this boils down to taxpayers picking up the slack that many of this country's largest employers aren't paying to their workers themselves.

This is a serious drain on our nation's economy, and we have to fix it. Have to.

But the current rhetoric surrounding this serious economic problem is doing more harm than good. Business leaders don't like being accused of being "unfair" to their workers and when they hear Democrats and Progressives talk about excessive CEO pay, their hackles go up and they become reluctant to support us, even though they agree with our policies.

But when this is viewed as stagnant worker compensation for the past 40 years, employers see clearly that it exists, even if their own organization isn't contributing to the problem, and are more likely to want help work toward solutions.

Why? Because wage stagnation adversely affects employers just as much as it does the rest of us. While responsible business leaders are doing their part to provide above-adequate wages to their workers, the bigger guys in the game are foisting their payroll responsibilities onto all taxpayers, including responsible business owners! It's no more fair to them than it is to the average working person in America, let alone America itself.

And it also creates a drag on the economy, because fairly compensated workers and families are consumers who can participate more; it’s trickle up, not trickle down!

By framing the problem as stagnant worker pay or wage stagnation, we stop villainizing people because of their individual pay practices and we redirect their attention to the wrongness of not universally rewarding increased productivity with matching compensation for workers across all sectors of employment in this country. It's more than "unfair," it's actually morally wrong. And let's face it, life's not always fair, but no one wants to be wronged.

  • Wage stagnation has caused the collapse of the middle-class family since the 1970s.
  • Wage stagnation has created bigger-than-necessary "welfare" reliance in this country.
  • Wage stagnation over decades has left families without a safety net of their own to fall back on if they lose a job.
  • Wage stagnation has put families in greater debt than they needed to be in.

It's unfortunate that we can't rely on all corporations to be fiscally responsible to their country on their own by matching employee pay to productivity and corporate success. But our Founding Fathers warned us of the propensity toward greed in corporations, and instituted the government we have as a means to ameliorate the wrongs that result from it.

"Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few." - ~ John Adams, An Essay on Man's Lust for Power, August 29, 1763

Government is instituted for the common goodfor the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.” ~ John AdamsThoughts on Government, 1776

It's long past time to bring about legislative change that will return worker pay to the same trajectory as worker productivity, which is still on the rise while income is not. Call your Representatives in Congress and tell them to change the dialog and start talking about the serious problem of wage stagnation. Tell them we need solutions that insist employers pay wages sufficient to keep employees off low-income taxpayer programs.

So ...

Don't Say:

Instead Say:

Pay inequality
Pay inequity
Inequality, or
Stagnant worker compensation
Stagnant worker pay
Stagnant worker wages
Wage stagnation


Now find out what we're re-framing with Public Protections And Heirs, Oh My! »


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