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It's the great economic conundrum of our day: if the unemployment rate is so low, why aren't wages growing faster? The law of supply and demand tells us that as labor gets scarce, wages should rise. Yet, as we saw in the latest jobs figures on Friday, average U.S. hourly earnings have barely exceeded inflation for three years running.

What's going on? The answer may lie in the Wage Growth Tracker (below), an alternative gauge produced by the Federal Reserve's Atlanta bank. It substantiates what a lot of people have suspected: that older, higher-paid workers are leaving the workforce and being replaced with cheaper, younger workers who hold little bargaining strength when they can be quickly replaced by automation.

Expand chart

Data: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

A level deeper: Automation technology has held down the wages of lower skilled workers for more than four decades, by giving employers a fallback option when labor gets too expensive. Recent employment growth has been bringing these workers back to the labor market, but their power to negotiate higher wages remains weak.

An enduring headwind: BMO economist Sal Guatieri theorizes that the growing number of applications for automation will keep wage growth low for the foreseeable future. "New automation is working its way up and down the skills chain, threatening a wider range of jobs than in the past, including many non-routine positions," he writes.

Be smart: The upside of automation is that it should increase the productivity of the workforce, which has historically been a necessary (although not always sufficient) condition for wage growth. But some leading economists say this relationship has broken down, and that we shouldn't be surprised if shareholders reap future gains of higher productivity while leaving workers no better off.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucus.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
15 hours ago - Economy & Business

The unicorn stampede is coming

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Airbnb and DoorDash plan to go public in the next few weeks, capping off a very busy year for IPOs.

What's next: You ain't seen nothing yet.