Total Compensation Has Flatlined for All But the Top 10%

A few days ago Jared Bernstein alerted me to something new: total employment cost figures broken down by income level. Are you excited yet? Read on and you will be.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has long provided something called the Employer Cost Index. The idea behind this number is that it includes the total cost of employing someone: wages, of course, but also health care, retirement benefits, paid leave, etc. This is useful because it tells us how much employers really have to spend to hire an extra person. Here’s the answer for the past decade:

Why is this interesting? Sometimes you’ll hear people suggest that, sure, wage growth has been slow, but that’s because employers are pouring a lot more money into health care premiums. And generally speaking, that’s true: health care costs have gone up a lot.

But as this chart shows, for the median worker the total cost of compensation has gone up only 2.6 percent over the past decade. That includes everything that employers have to pay for. In other words, the idea that wage growth is slow because the money is going somewhere else simply doesn’t hold water—and that’s true for workers at all income levels. Even the highest-paid workers, who have seen the best wage growth and who get the best benefits, have seen their total compensation go up by less than 1 percent per year.

And since I know you’re just bursting with curiosity about how well our corporate community has been doing during this same period, here you go:


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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