Massachusetts has more than doubled its productivity in the workplace over the past three decades, but it has come at a price for lower wage earners, according to a Thursday report released by Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
The report, titled The State of Working Massachusetts, showed productivity — measured by output of goods and services divided by hours worked — has increased by 112 percent since 1979, but the median wage has increased by only 18 percent. In the same period, the minimum wage has lost almost 13 percent of its value.
“Back in post-war years when productivity went up, wages went up right along with it, but that changed in the 1980s,” said MassBudget President Noah Berger. “There has been wage growth, but it’s been mostly among the people at the very high end of the income distribution. It’s gone up pretty dramatically, but those in the middle have seen very little growth.”
On Thursday, hundreds of fast food workers went on strike and marched to the Boston Common as part of a national movement to raise the pay of workers.
Leisure and hospitality jobs that pay $10 per hour and professional and business service jobs that pay $26 per hour, the lowest and highest paying jobs measured, showed the most growth while careers in manufacturing and financial activities lost jobs, according to the report.
“People have been talking about the hollowing out of the job distribution,” said Kevin Lang, a professor of economics at Boston University. “… Non-manual, routine types of tasks that can easily be replaced with technology [have disappeared]. For example, it’s cheaper to use a [Microsoft] Excel program than hiring dozens of people for bookkeeping, and that trend applies across the economy.”
With minimum wage having lost its value consistently over the past several years, the report projects it will continue to go down through 2023.
Simply raising the minimum wage, though, would not necessarily change anything, Lang said.
“The issue is when you raise minimum wage, there is some employment loss,” he said. “On the other hand, you do reduce wage inequality. However, the overall effect is small, so the trade-off is a small loss in employment for a small gain in income equality. That is a matter of personal preference of which of those two you think is more important.”
When it comes to the minimum wage, several Boston residents said it does not reflect the amount of effort a worker puts into their job.
Deborah Prew, 66, a currently unemployed Brighton resident, said nobody can make a living off of minimum wage jobs, especially for those who were laid off during the recession.
“The price of everything is going up, up, up,” she said. “People can’t live off jobs at McDonald’s or Burger King. When there are less jobs and their [employers] are paying less, people will still do them. It doesn’t mean it’s even close to enough though … Barely anyone can make it in this world today.”
Others said people do not work as hard as they should and therefore do not deserve how much they think they should make.
Steven Berg, 40, a Boston resident and restaurant owner, said most workers already do not deserve the current wage.
“People just do less,” he said. “Many people would rather sit around and collect what we are required to pay … It’s an epidemic. These people don’t care. They just jump from one job to another and collect government money in between.”