Wages not rising? Trump was wrong

The most widely noticed remark in President Donald Trump’s Trump Tower lobby question-and-answer session Aug. 15 was his comments on the unrest in Charlottesville, Va. But one economic assertion caught our attention.

As Trump was leaving, a reporter asked him what he thought “needs to be done to overcome the racial divides in this country?”

“I really think jobs can have a big impact,” Trump said, adding a little later, “The other thing, very important: I believe wages will start going up. They haven’t gone up for a long time.”

Is Trump correct that wages “haven’t gone up for a long time?” Short answer: No. They’re going up now, in fact.

While it’s true that wages were stagnant for several years, especially after the Great Recession, they have been on an upward swing since early 2014.

For much of the time between 2012 and 2014, median weekly earnings were lower than they were in 1979. But that began changing in 2014. After hitting a low of $330 a week in early 2014, wages have risen to $354 a week by early 2017. That’s an increase of 7.3 percent over a roughly three-year period.

“In this case, you can say the president is flatly wrong,” said Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless. “Real wages have been rising more slowly than anyone wishes, except perhaps employers. Nonetheless, they have been rising.”

Burtless noted that the increases for a subset of all workers, “production and non-supervisory employees,” have been occurring even longer. They’ve gone up every month but two since late 2012.

Jed Kolko, the chief economist with the jobs site Indeed.com, added that “not only have wages gone up overall, but wages are now increasing most for people with less education. So, wage gains aren’t being driven only by top earners.” He provided this chart, showing that non-college full-time employees have been growing by 3 percent to 4 percent a year.

The White House did not respond to an inquiry.

Our ruling

Trump’s statement that wages “haven’t gone up for a long time” was once accurate, but it’s significantly out of date. Wages have been increasing for the past three to five years, depending on the measurement you use. We rate the statement False.

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