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One chart that explains why the recovery doesn't feel like a recovery

Americans' paychecks just jumped higher, but wages are still pretty flat. If that sounds nonsensical, just take a look at the latest data from the Labor Department. Median weekly earnings climbed $10 last quarter to $790, the Labor Department reported today. Encouragingly, that's a 2.5 percent bump over last year, compared to only a 1.8 percent bump in the consumer price index.

But really, this measure of earnings has hardly budged from the last few years, if you take a broader view.

The below chart shows median weekly earnings over the last 10 years, but adjusted to 1982-84 dollars. Since a spike in the late 2000s, pay has barely budged. And this latest uptick in wages only comes after earnings bottomed out the prior quarter. Really, not much has changed.


This is really a continuation of an economic recovery my colleague Matt Yglesias has characterized as "meh." There have, of course, been some substantial improvements — a slowly accelerating pace of job creation stands out. But when it comes to an improving labor market, that's only half the equation. Even four years and 10 million jobs into it, the job recovery is only partway there, because it hasn't made big enough job gains to tighten up its slack and really push earnings upward. Maybe this latest jump is a sign of even higher wages to come. But for now, wages seem stubbornly flat.

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