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.

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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.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.