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The cost of benefits to employers has risen roughly 284% from 1982 through last year.

Most experts will agree the economy has improved dramatically from its pale, feeble days during and directly after the Great Recession. Unemployment is down (even if there are a few caveats), low interest rates make it easier to make big purchases, and the stock market has largely recovered, except for a few bumps along the way. So why aren’t people rejoicing? The answer is simple: Their wages aren’t growing enough to afford the post-recession celebration.

In fact, several analyses show that “real wages” — the ones that adjust income and buying power with inflation over time — haven’t grown in decades. One chart from the Pew Research Center shown below illustrates that wages have barely budged in 50 years, growing just over a dollar in purchasing power since 1964. The average hourly wage in the United States in 2014 was $20.67. When you take inflation into account, that buys roughly the same amount of stuff that the average wage of $2.50 did in 1964, give or take a few cents.


Our economy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither do wages. They’re impacted by a number of complex factors, which is why the President has more than 30 economic experts advising him at any given time. However, to simplify things we’ve taken a look at some of the biggest items to influence wages in the last several years, and why people haven’t experienced the bump in their paychecks they really need — even if they’re getting an annual raise. (And that’s not even a guarantee anymore.)