Mar 23, 2023 - Economy

Pay soared for the lowest-wage workers over the past three years

Data: EPI analysis of the Current Population Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

Pay rose at historically fast rates for low-wage workers in the U.S. between 2019 and 2022, even after adjusting for inflation, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute released Thursday morning.

What happened: The tight labor market and disruptions from the pandemic gave folks at the lowest end of the pay scale unprecedented amounts of leverage over employers.

  • The mass layoffs of 2020 combined with ample relief money from the government, actually put workers in a better position — with time away from work and resources to fall back on — to find new jobs once the market came back.
  • "For so many people, they didn't actually realize that there might be better opportunities out there," said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the progressive think tank, who co-wrote the analysis.

Reality check: These folks are still not making much money.

  • In 2022, the 10th percentile hourly wage, i.e. the workers at the bottom, was $12.57.
  • That's not considered enough for one person to maintain an adequate standard of living anywhere in the U.S., according to EPI's calculations.

Worth noting: Those at the very, very top saw enormous gains.

  • Wages for the top 1% and 0.1% rose 16.1% and 29.2% between 2019 and 2021, according to Social Security Administration data also analyzed by EPI.
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