U.S. Workers Struggling Under Biggest Pay Drop On Record

If only politicians would stop blathering about the middle class and do something for those who are now poorer than ever. If only people could get full-time jobs. Feel all that freedom trickling down:

The economic "recovery" just keeps getting worse for the average worker: U.S. employers squeezed their employees even harder than usual in the first quarter, leading to the biggest drop in hourly pay on record.

Hourly pay for nonfarm workers fell at a 3.8 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Wednesday. This was the biggest quarterly decline since the BLS started keeping track in 1947. Some of the drop was payback for a 9.9 percent surge in hourly pay in the fourth quarter of 2012, as employers shoveled money out the door to avoid tax changes they expected to take place in 2013.

But there have been plenty of such quarterly pay increases in the past. Many were even bigger. Some went on for several quarters at a time. And never has there been such a steep pay drop in response as there was in the first quarter of this year.

Smoothing out the quarterly ups and downs doesn't make the picture look any better. Hourly worker pay rose just 1.9 percent in 2012, a pitiful increase that barely kept up with the 1.8 percent gain in the consumer price index. That was the third-weakest annual increase in hourly pay since 1947, topping only the 1.4 percent gain in 2009 and a 1.8-percent gain in 1994.

Hourly pay has grown by just 2 percent per year, on average, for the past four years, the weakest four-year stretch on record. At the same time, corporate profits are at record highs, and until a recent swoon, the stock market was setting records, too. Workers haven't been reaping the rewards, but their employers have been.

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