The unemployment rate is falling. The stock market is climbing. Hirings and job openings are at their highest levels in years. Home construction is on the rise.

The economy is growing, however slowly, and by many measurements it has equaled or surpassed pre-Great Recession levels.

The recovery, though, is not universal, not yet. Even if the overall signs trend positive, the average worker, particularly here in Maine, is being left behind.

A Federal Reserve report released last week showed that the average income for all families rose 4 percent, to $87,200, from 2010 to 2013. But the median income – the point where half the number of families make more and half make less – has fallen 5 percent, a clear indication that the incomes of the very rich are increasing while everyone else’s is going down.

That’s disconcerting news at a time when wages should be creeping up. In fact, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the drop in unemployment should have raised inflation-adjusted wages since the end of the recesion by 3.6 percent by June.

Instead, they’ve stayed flat for the most part since 2009 – according to the Labor Department, the average wage for nongovernment, non-supervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, fell to $8.77 an hour, compared to $8.85 an hour in June 2009, when the recession officially ended.


Economists are divided about why wages have remained flat, although slow gains for low- and middle-income workers have been characteristic of the last few downturns. Many also point to the high number of positions being taken by temporary and part-time workers, many of whom would prefer to work more hours.

That’s a bad sign for Maine, which has one of the highest percentages of part-time workers who are seeking more work but cannot find it. The number continues to increase, meaning more and more working Mainers are simply not earning enough. The 2008 recession destroyed many quality jobs, and the recovery is replacing them with low-wage, low-quality positions.

There’s not much optimism that situation will change anytime soon. A Harvard Business School study, for instance, surveyed nearly 2,000 alumni. It found that only 27 percent expect workers to see wage and benefit increases in the next three years, while 41 percent think that pay will fall.

That’s bad news for workers who have just weathered the worst recession in decades, and who continue to face the rising costs of food, fuel and housing.

Until those workers share directly in the recovery, it’s really no recovery at all.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.