Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Statistical Lies

 After the financial crisis and the ensuing great recession that started in April 2008, the unemployment rate rose from 5.5% to 7.5% over 12 months. Over the same time period, wage growth – as measured by single-month average weekly earnings in the private sector – also fell sharply. This is what usually happens in a slump.

 But not this time around, in 2020. Something weird is happening to wage growth.

In the US, there was a big rise in the unemployment rate to just under 20% in April, before falling back steadily to 7.1% in November. But wage growth actually rose sharply, and was 5.9% in November. 

The picture is the same in the UK. After an initial drop into negative territory earlier this year, there was a sharp rise for -2.9% wage growth to 3.2% in October.

So, everyone is better off right? Actually not. XpertHR, a consultancy specialising in pay, reported that pay settlements limped towards year end with median settlements at 2%.

 It appears that what has happened both in the UK and the US is that the lower part of the wage distribution – the lowest-paid workers – has just dropped out. 

It’s a batting average effect if you like; the team average rises because batsmen 10 and 11 are not counted any more. We are not exactly sure, but it looks bad news. The issue is whether these jobs – many in pubs, clubs and restaurants - return after the furlough payments stop. But many jobs won’t return, if there are long-run changes in behaviour after the pandemic as expected.

It is unclear after Brexit and the end of the lockdown whether those jobs are coming back.

The puzzle of rising UK wages reveals an unprecedented and tragic truth | Business | The Guardian

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