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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

Brazil's health minister tests positive for COVID during UN summit in N.Y.

President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga in Brasilia, Brazil, in May. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

Brazil's Health Minister Marcelo Queirog has tested positive for COVID-19 while in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), he confirmed Tuesday night.

Why it matters: Hours earlier, Queirog had accompanied Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to the UNGA. The Biden administration expressed concern last week that the gathering of world leaders could become a coronavirus "superspreader event."

Trump sues New York Times and his niece over tax report

Former President Trump hosting a boxing match in Hollywood, Florida on Sept. 11. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump filed a $100 million lawsuit against the New York Times and his niece Mary Trump on Tuesday over the news outlet's 2018 reporting on his tax records, the Daily Beast first reported.

Details: The suit, filed in New York's Dutchess County, alleges NYT journalists "engaged in an insidious plot to obtain confidential and highly-sensitive records" and that they "convinced" Mary Trump to "smuggle records out of her attorney's office and turn them over to The Times."

House passes government funding, debt ceiling bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The House passed a bill on Tuesday to fund the government through early December, along with a measure to raise the debt ceiling through December 2022.

Why it matters: The stopgap measure, which needs to be passed to avoid a government shutdown when funding expires on Sept. 30, faces a difficult journey in the Senate where at least ten Republicans would need to vote in favor.