Bonfire Of The Paycheck

There was little difference in the growth rates of gross national product and employment in the 1970s and the 1980s. But as a new study by the National Commission for Employment Policy indicates, individual workers, whose earnings typically rise as they acquire more skills and experience, fared far less successfully in the later decade.

Tracing the actual wage growth posted by workers aged 22 to 46 at the start of each decade, the study found that 24% of men suffered real earnings declines over the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, the losing share surged to 36%--including 39% of those with some college and one-fifth of men with four-year degrees. Further, whereas only 9% of men in their early twenties at the start of the 1970s experienced earnings declines during that decade, the percent of young losers tripled to 26% during the 1980s.

Women workers did better during the 1980s--partly because their wage rates improved, but mainly because they worked about 50% more hours a year. Still, even with all that added effort, some 30% of individual women workers wound up with lower annual earnings at the end of the decade than they enjoyed when it began.

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