NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Economy In 1998 Hoisted Low-Wage Workers

February 5, 1999

Minorities and the lowest-paid workers in the economy made significant wage progress again last year, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers. The gains came on top of similar progress in 1997.

"If you run a strong economy long enough," commented Rebecca Blank, a member of the council, "it really does get down to the bottom, and it gets to the bottom with a vengeance."

  • Average hourly wages for adults in the bottom 20 percent of the pay scale rose 2.4 percent after inflation -- to $7.77.
  • For all adult African-American men, wages rose 4 percent last year -- outpacing the 3.1 percent gain for whites.
  • Among black women, wages rose 5.2 percent, to $9.35 an hour -- compared to a 3.7 percent increase for white women, to $10.59 an hour.
  • Wages for Hispanic men rose 3.1 percent, to $9.11 an hour -- while wages for Hispanic women jumped 4.9 percent, to $7.99.

But wages for adult male workers at the bottom 10 percent of the pay scale actually fell 1.6 percent to $5.99 in 1998, after rising in 1997.

Analysts say the biggest reason for the gains is the tight labor market. The unemployment rate for last year was 4.5 percent -- the lowest since 1969 -- while the jobless rate for minorities and for lower-educated workers has plunged sharply.

Source: Jacob M. Schlesinger, "Low-Wage Workers Make Strong Gains," Wall Street Journal, February, 5, 1999.


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