Who has gained

Over the last 25 years, who has gotten ahead when it comes to pay? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden answers.

“This is actually more complicated endeavor than many would think because a lot of factors go into determining, for example, whether a particular household is getting ahead — for example, how many workers are in a household, how much they work, whether a member of that household is retired, unemployed, et cetera. One way to get around this is to look at an individual basis and simply look at full-time workers, people who are working a full week, how has their pay changed over … the last 25 years?

Now, of course, we do have to take out inflation in this comparison. And so what I did is looked at the two examples here: I looked at full-time male workers and full-time female workers and how their average — actually, median — pay has changed over the last 25 years.

“Very interesting and contrasting results: Actually for men, not a lot of change — in fact, slightly down. That is, compared to 25 years ago, a full-time male worker was earning about 2 percent under what they did five years ago when you adjust for inflation. In contrast, a big gain by women — actually up 16 percent after you adjust for inflation.

“Now another factor in all this is what’s happened to income distribution, particularly as the people at the top end of the earnings distribution actually gained more. And so here I looked at the top 5 percent of earners, and they actually saw their share of total income rise 4 percentage points over the last 25 years.”

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