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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Breaking news alert! Wages fell at the fastest rate ever recorded during the first quarter of this year, the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Hourly wages fell 3.8 percent in the first quarter, the biggest drop since the BLS began tracking compensation in 1947. Productivity rose half a percentage point. The result was that what economists call “labor unit costs” fell 4.3 percent.

In plain English, that means paychecks overall shrank, but work output grew. If you are a business owner, that is news worthy of a toast with a bottle of the finest Cristal champagne, which at $595 is more than the $518 that a median-wage worker earns in a week.

If you have not heard this news about plummeting wages, it is not surprising. Except for right-wing websites, and an item at the liberal Huffington Post, the June 5 announcement went unreported.

The networks and the major newspapers all have staffs of business reporters, yet they missed the third paragraph of the official government announcement that contained this important news.

That is because they are mostly assigned to write about hedge funds, high finance and the latest smartphone app. Hardly any business reporters cover workers or work, and when they do, it is often from the perspective of company executives and investors.

My former employer, The New York Times, not only failed to report this awful news affecting the vast majority of Americans who work, but gave a misleading account in both a news report and a blog post:

Average weekly hours and average hourly earnings, for example, have shown little improvement in recent months, according to the Labor Department.

That is true, by the way. Misleading and incomplete, but true. It is also in line with that paper’s tradition of focusing readers on any silver lining in an economic storm.

What the Times reports matters a great deal, as every other news organization turns to it first because of its unmatched resources and talent. But that also means that when that newspaper misses, or muffs, a story, so does everyone else.

It is not like this new wage news can be dismissed as an anomaly, either. It is evidence of a troubling trend – falling incomes for the 99 percent.

Pay for most jobs has been falling because of a combination of anti-union rules that have reduced membership to its lowest level in almost a century, trade deals with China that have destroyed 2.8 million jobs and put pressure on workers to accept lower pay to compete with imports, and the severe cuts in welfare benefits over the past two decades, which have flooded the market with low-wage workers. America ranks second only to South Korea in the share of workers earning low wages, both at about one job in four.

At the same time, taxpayers have been giving ever-larger subsidies to employers, notably Walmart, many of whose workers need food stamps.

From 2007 to 2011 the average pretax income of the bottom 90 percent fell from $35,173 to $30,437. That is a drop of more than $4,500. It is also a decline of nearly 13 percent.

The 2012 data are likely to show that drop has worsened, with the vast majority’s average income likely to be down $5,000, or roughly $100 per week. We’ll see how well that gets reported in the fall when new data becomes available.

By the way, if you make a good living, or your household enjoys two above-average incomes, don’t think that you are exempt from this trend toward less.

During the same period, the threshold to enter the top 10 percent fell by 6.5 percent, a drop of $7,665 to $110,651, analysis of the latest IRS data by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty shows.

This drop in income is part of a long-term trend in which the economy grows, but nearly all the gains go to the top. From 2009 to 2011 the top 1 percent got 121 percent of all the gains, which was possible only because the 99 percent got less.

In 2011, the top tenth of one percent got 7.4 percent of all the income in America, up from 2.2 percent the year Ronald Reagan took office as president, a fact reported in only a few news articles.

For the bottom half of taxpayers the decline has been brutal. In 2010 the bottom half of Americans averaged just under $15,300 per household in reported income. Every household in the bottom half made less than $32,400 in income, IRS data posted by the conservative Tax Foundation shows.

More than a third of all workers, 51 million of them, made less than $15,000 in 2011. Half of workers, 75 million people, earned less than $27,000, which is $519 a week with no vacation. That figure has been essentially flat since 1999.

Did you know these figures? Did you know half of households get only about $1,100 a month? If you do, you are part of a very small and well-informed minority. Please spread this news to the vast, ill-informed majority of Americans by telling everyone you know what you read here at National Memo, but not in your morning newspaper.

The reasons a record fall in pay was not mainstream news are hard to fathom. But, sadly, what was once a mass medium that drew many reporters from the working class and intellectual blue-collar families has become so focused on high-income readers, listeners and viewers that institutional views of what is news change.

The stock options granted to executives, reported almost as a competition to see which CEO can make the most for the least performance, make the news. I played a role in that trend, showing in 1996 how journalists were systematically under-reporting executive pay by a lot.  What happened since is a surprising personal lesson in the law of unintended consequences.

Today’s news organizations focus much more on investors than workers or consumers. They tend to view banking through the eyes of the few who invest in banks rather than the vastly larger audience who have bank accounts. But then mutual funds and banks buy ads and the investors in them tend to have high incomes, which in turn helps them afford the $25 to $65 monthly cost of newspaper home delivery.

For TV and radio, advertisers also want younger people in the top half — and preferably top quarter — of the income distribution, not the half of workers making less than $518 a week.

Concern about falling wages is also influenced by the heavily marketed idea that we need lower pay to have a strong economy. That may explain why falling wages have been reported as news by Drudge, the website of Fox, the libertarian California newspaper The Orange County Register and the like.

Higher minimum wages, the corporate economists and right-wing news organizations say, destroy jobs. The Chicago School sect of neoclassical economics, which dominates in America, teaches that as dogma. It is not, however, what empirical research shows.

Falling wages mean less disposable income, which in turn means there is less reason for corporations to invest because there is less money to buy products and services. It also means less in tax revenues than if we pursued a high-wage strategy and, at the same time, included in the idea of markets the actual ability of workers to collectively negotiate their compensation just as our economic competitors do.

AP Photo/J Pat Carter

If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.