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Despite growth in the economy, the economic climate for American workers hasn't improved much since last Labor Day, and they are significantly worse off on most measures than they were a decade ago, according to the third annual Labor Scorecard compiled by Rutgers' School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). While August's unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, 0.1 percent lower than last August, the figure is about 2.5 times August 2000's 4.1 percent.
When underemployed and marginally attached workers are included, the current jobless rate rises to 16.7 percent, compared to 16.8 percent one year ago and 7.1 percent in 2000. The research also found that 42 percent of unemployed workers were out of work six months or longer, more than twice the percentage in 2005 and nearly 3.5 times the rate at the decade's start.
"It's quite striking that more than one-third of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months," said SMLR Dean David Finegold. "That suggests this will be a long-term problem to be solve."
Perhaps, one bright spot has been a 50 percent drop from last year in extended mass layoffs of at least 50 workers for a minimum of 30 days – 650,000 from 1.3 million. The number stood at 405,000 in 2000.
Workers fortunate enough to be covered by their companies' health insurance plans are paying higher costs for the protection but are not receiving commensurate wage increases, observed SMLR Professor and principal investigator Douglas Kruse. The current median weekly earnings of wage and salary workers are $744 compared to $748 last year and $724 in both 2005 and 2000. The latest figures (2009) show employees now contribute an average of $779 for single and $3,515 for family health insurance coverage. The corresponding figures were $670 and $2,980 in 2005, and $416 and $2,017 in 2000, respectively. Employees pay 87.2 percent more for individual coverage and 74.3 percent more for family coverage, than in 2000.
"Even at a time when corporate profits are increasing, there is little gain being shared with the workforce," Kruse said. "Workers clearly are being asked to share more of the cost of benefits."
Kruse also found gender and ethnicity gaps in median weekly earnings among full-time workers. Women currently earn 83 percent of men's weekly wages; blacks earn 80.3 percent of whites' wages; and Hispanic or Latino workers earn 70 percent of whites' wages. Women's median wages relative to men's improved 14.8 percent the past year, while blacks' wages relative to whites increased by 8.3 percent. However, relative to whites' median weekly wages, Hispanic or Latinos' pay declined 9.4 percent.
A gap in average pay for full-time, full-year workers with disabilities relative to workers without disabilities, still exists, Kruse found. The latest available data (from 2008) show that people with disabilities earned 12.5 percent less than nondisabled counterparts. Nevertheless, the gap narrowed by 21.5 percent from 2007, when those with disabilities earned 16 percent less than those without disabilities.
Despite relatively flat earnings since last year, households have managed to slightly lower their debt payments as a percentage of income, from 13.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009 to 12.5 percent in 2010. As for employer-sponsored retired plans, the percentage of employees in private industry who have access to such plans is 65 percent, the same percentage as five years ago but down 2 percent from 2009. Half participate in their employer's plans, about the same percentage since 2005. Since last year, there have been no changes in the percentage of employees covered by a traditional (defined benefit) plan (20 percent) or 401(k) or other defined contribution plan (43 percent).