Life for Virginia’s Working Man Not So Bad

As we sink into the La-Z-Boy recliner, watch the cable TV news about Hurricane Gustav, pop open another beer and pat our fat, comfortable bellies, it is appropriate to pause and consider the condition of the working man and woman in Virginia and the United States on this Labor Day.

We’ve heard a lot of speeches and commentary in recent days about the miserable condition of the laboring class in the United States. The multimillionaires may be prospering, but everyone else is mired in wage stagnation, home foreclosures and credit card debt. The last eight years have been a disaster. The country is crying out for change.

Carmudgeon that I am, I decided to check the facts. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ searchable database only has data through 2006, so I gathered the data from 2001 (the bursting of the Internet bubble) to 2006 for wages and salaries. Note that I focused on wages and salaries because I wanted to exclude the income from interest, dividends, capital gains and other sources of revenue that mainly benefit the plutocracy. I also didn’t want to focus on “per capital income,” my usual favorite metric, because of the need to make adjustments for evolving family size, labor force participation and so on. The numbers I’m provide are plain, old wages and salaries for everyday working Joes and Janes.

The rate of inflation over that five-year period was 13.8 percent. The average wage/salary gain for all Americans was 18.0 percent — thus, Americans enjoyed an inflation-adjusted gain of 4.2 percent in wages and salaries. That’s hardly a breathtaking breakthrough in prosperity, but it does contradict the picture of members of the working classes getting their noses ground into the dirt.

Virginia fared somewhat better than the nation as a whole — wages/salaries gained 21.3 percent. That was good enough to rank it the 11th top performing state in the country.

Hampton Roads led the way, rebounding vigorously from its wage stagnation in the 1990s. It was followed by the Charlottesville, Washington and Blacksburg-Christiansburg MSAs. Here are the numbers:

Hampton Roads…24.2%
Charlottesville… 22.6%
Washington… 21.7%
All Virginia metropolitan areas… 21.3%
Blacksburg-Christiansburg… 20.8%
Richmond… 20.2%
All Virginia non-metro areas…17.4%
Bristol-Kingsport… 17.0%
Roanoke… 16.6%
Lynchburg… 16.1%
Harrisonburg… 15.7%
Danville… 13.8%

Poor Danville brought up the rear, but Danville residents can take on small morcel of satisfaction: They performed better than the state of Michigan, which saw wages/salaries increase only 13.1%.

So, Virginians, celebrate this day. Despite what you hear, life is actually OK.

Update: In his Labor Day post on “Growls,” Tim Wise emphasized that American workers not only are making more money but are enjoying more leisure time and spending more of their income on recreation. Since the mid-’60s, the typical worker spend 8 fewer hours per week working, and has increased the percentage of personal expenditures devoted to recreation from 6.6 percent in 1970 to 8.7 percent in 2005.

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5 responses to “Life for Virginia’s Working Man Not So Bad”

  1. J. Tyler Ballance Avatar
    J. Tyler Ballance

    “…inflation-adjusted gain of 4.2 percent in wages…”

    To actually adjust for inflation, one must also crank in the increased cost of goods and services. Just the tripling of gas prices more than wipes out that supposed 4% increase. Add in the increases in ALL groceries, and things are looking bleak. Pile on the typical family’s debt load and we have a looming disaster.

    The BLS is big on AVERAGEs, but the MEDIAN earnings is where the real information is. Also, the BLS conveniently leaves out those who have dropped out of the “on the books” job market, because they just don’t have reliable estimates on the underground economy.

    This discussion reminds me of the government’s reports on POVERTY. To hear them tell the story, Americans are doing pretty well. However, to those who have been bankrupted by health care costs, or rendered unemployable in the regular economy for various reasons, the fact that many others are doing quite well, mean nothing, since to the poor, their hunger and their pain, are all too real.

    Just food for thought:

    There are 44 MILLION, White Americans living BELOW the poverty line. This number is LARGER than the ENTIRE (all income groups) African-American or the ENTIRE (legal) Latino population. Yet if someone suggested that we should have a, “United White Kids Scholarship Fund” that would be deemed racist by the Left.

    Luckily we have the brown guy at he head of the Democratic ticket promising ch-ch-ch-change and we have the Republican side parading out their token woman VP, so we can all be sure that there is no need to discuss real problems or issues, since both parties have token minority members on their tickets.

    Don’t bother to get involved, Joe Six Pack, just sit there and watch NASCAR while our Country goes to Hell.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “Adjusted for Household Size, Real Income Reached An All-Time High in 2007, +66% Higher Than 1967 “

    “OFHEO: Home Prices Increased in 30 Out of 50 States Over Last Year, From 2007:Q2 to 2008:Q2”

    “Over 100 Years, Food Prices Have FALLEN By 82% “

    “Wage-Price Spiral? Not Even Close.”

    “Concern About Inflation “

    “Relentless Negativity Of The Media “

    These and other interesting graphs and anlysis at


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    “Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ searchable database only has data through 2006”

    Unfortunately, this pretty much makes this entire thread meaningless….

  4. Joe Six Pack Avatar
    Joe Six Pack

    Dang, hain’t far putin them thar choice things down here in the hollar. Hit’s a pick lik lottery. We kin toss a bunch a drinkin time tween two skunks what never been to a hollar, or we kin have a bleecher seat to see Carl and Kyle turn thar rides into scrap, after the race. We all may be ignorwhatchacallets but one thangs fer sure. Unlik yo city boys we hav a tolerable notion of what’s real, and what hain’t.

  5. Up here in the genteel and refined urban locale we take faint solace in the kind of mathmatics reported by the BLS. First, we wonder what those equations would reveal if they were rendered by income quartile rather than on average. One certainly can remember those happy and prosperous days when a very few, very rich dot com billionaires raised the average quite a few notches. We also wonder about the years in question – 2001 to 2006. While the start of that period had its economic difficulties the end was rather rosy. It seems that the BLS data as omitted such nastiness as the mortgage meltdown and the bank failures. We here in the big city all look forward to Mr. Bacon's opining on the merits of the middle class as the new statistics emerge.

    Meanwhile, we shall all be glued to our televisions this Thursday evening. We may not know Carl and Kyle but we have a pretty good idea about Jason, Clinton and Chris. As we drink our Old Dominion Lager from crystal beer steins we hope that our fair team rolls the %$&^*&^% &*& Giants up into a &^%&^ ball and kicks their *^%%$ all up and down the #$$#$ syringe filled coast of New Jersey.

    Of course, Mr. Snyder's choice of Mr. Zorn to lead the merry men of Raljon has our rather perturbed. Perhaps we will look into this NASCAR thing-y as an alternate viewing experience.

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