Commentary: Job numbers grow while income remains flat

Commentary: Job numbers grow while income remains flat
July 13
03:00 2017

By Algenon Cash

Hard to believe this past June marked the eighth year of the national economic recovery as the labor market continues to heal from the greatest recession in 80 years. 

The massive economic decline triggered by a housing bust and credit market freeze caused the nation to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs monthly and the jobless rate skyrocketed above 9 percent.

Employers added a significant 220,000 jobs in June, although the jobless rate moved up slightly to 4.4 percent, simply because people on the sidelines decided to return to the labor force.

Undoubtedly we have reached virtual full employment in the country, which means everyone who wants a job, most likely is working.  But the tightening labor market is now posing a new question: Why are wages for workers in high demand not rising?

Complaints amongst hiring managers regarding a labor shortage are growing, but actual income growth has been modest at best – rising only 2.5 percent year over year.  Before the recession, incomes were expanding around 3.6 percent yearly.  However, wage growth is above the national average in jobs that require more than a high school diploma, advanced skills training or a degree –for example health care and professional services.

My first job was a summer gig at McDonald’s on Akron Drive when I was 15 years old and I’ll never forget the manager who gave me the opportunity to prove myself – Shelee Taylor.  But today’s entry level and low-skilled jobs are facing extinction from offshoring, automation and other advanced technology.

Take for example, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Taco Bell all announced the installation of 1,000 order- taking kiosks earlier this year.  Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, Hobby Lobby and just about every big box retailer that you can think of are shuttering stores, laying off workers and trying to discover innovative ways to compete against online retail pressure.

America is constantly evolving and the landscape alters with each cyclical evolution, but in a capitalist society, the economy is shifting at the same time – purging companies no longer able to compete, challenging workers to sharpen skills and creating new paths of opportunities.

The best way to earn yourself a raise is to build up your professional expertise by seeking opportunities to volunteer, intern and share working knowledge.  My greatest advice to college students is to work summer internships to learn how to apply all the valuable information received in the classroom.

Many adults mistakenly think internships are for college students only, but seeking ways to develop skills through real world application should not and is not limited by age.  If you crave a specific job or planning to launch a new business, then consider ways to gain exposure through an internship – your salary or business income will reflect your training, skills and experience.

Another secret to raising your income is actually not a secret at all, but largely unpracticed.  Simply find someone who may already be doing what you would like to do, and then convince them to mentor you.  Most likely they will have specialized knowledge of what it may take for you to achieve success, possibly be aware of unique job opportunities for you to gain know-how and typically can make introductions to others already in the industry.

Stop waiting to receive more compensation; start earning it!

Algenon Cash is the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment banking firm. 

Reach him at

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