The Great Recession May Be Over, but American Families Are Working Harder than Ever

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Released: July 2011 • Economic Analysis

Related Topics: Employment & Wages

Authors:

  • Adam LooneySenior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
  • Michael GreenstoneFormer Director, The Hamilton Project; 3M Professor of Environmental Economics, MIT
 
 

Introduction

Gains in the labor market have stalled, according to today's employment report. Payroll employment increased by just 18,000 jobs in June, the smallest increase in eight months, and the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.2 percent. Increases in private employment slowed sharply over the past two months, while government employment continued to fall.

In previous postings, we have looked at the median earnings of both men and women to explore their long-term employment and earnings trends. For men, we found that earnings have been on the decline because of stagnant wages and declining employment. For women, earnings have increased rapidly as more women entered the labor force armed with higher levels of education — able to command higher salaries.

This month we explore the trends in earnings and employment for American families, looking both at two-parent and single-parent families. Indeed, the question about how men or women are doing separately may not capture how the average family is doing. To help tell the full story we examined the earnings for households with children during the past thirty-five years.

The numbers suggest that the typical American family is earning more, but almost entirely because parents are working more — not because they are earning more per hour. This is one more indicator that, even before the recession, the labor market was presenting challenges for many American families.


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