Soaring wages followed by historically high inflation

US wages soared during the first months of the pandemic, but this wasn’t necessarily a sign of a healthy economy. About 35% of the lowest-earning workers lost their jobs between February and April 2020, while the highest-earning workers kept working, so earnings calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics jumped.

Average earnings calmed down somewhat in the ensuing months, but have been ticking up steadily since last June. Over the past year, many employers have raised wages in an effort to entice applicants; there were a record 10.9 million available jobs in the US in September. But that’s not necessarily helping workers, since they now have to pay higher prices for almost everything.

October’s Consumer Price Index report showed that everyday items like food, rent, and gas, are becoming more expensive in the US, and goods like used cars—which remain particularly expensive due to pandemic-related supply chain issues—are no longer the only items driving up inflation. Those trends persisted in November.

As Americans’ buying power has declined, so has consumer confidence: this index, which looks at consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, declined to a nine-month low in November as income prospects dropped.

There was one bright spot in this latest inflation report, though. The lowest-paid US workers are seeing wage gains keep pace with inflation. Employees in the leisure and hospitality industry, for example, saw earnings rise by 0.8% on average last month, the same increase as consumer prices.

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