The stagnation in wages despite a pickup in hiring
over the past few years has been one of the recovery's most perplexing
puzzles. But maybe the real problem isn't lack of growth. It's that
wages didn't fall enough during the recession.
That idea was floated by none other than Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen during a speech on
the labor market last month during an elite central banking conference
in Jackson Hole, Wyo. She used a much fancier term -- "pent-up wage
deflation" -- but it essentially means that employers are keeping
workers' pay flat now to make up for not cutting it during the downturn.
...By leaving workers' wages unchanged
during the recession, businesses were essentially overpaying their
employees. Once the recovery starts, they make up the difference the
same way -- keeping wages flat despite an improving economy.
Normally, rising inflation during a recovery helps businesses reduce
costs even if wages remain unchanged. But the recovery from the Great
Recession has been characterized by particularly low inflation -- which
is likely lengthening the time firms need to keep wages flat.
I wish Yellen's words were more emphatic. But I'll take what I can get.