Why aren't wages rising?

Everything you need to know, in four paragraphs

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(Image credit: (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images))

When President Obama delivers a speech about the economy, he never utters a "sound bite that declares America's storms have passed," said Alexis Simendinger at Real Clear Politics. He knows that plenty of Americans still feel uncertain about their jobs and fearful for their future. But last week, with good economic news breathing wind into his sails, the president seemed to say, "Snap out of it." In his most substantive domestic policy speech in months, Obama insisted that despite the long slog from the financial crisis, economic indicators are undeniably brightening. The unemployment rate in September dropped to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since July 2008, and businesses have created 10 million jobs in the past five years. "Inch by inch," the recovery is taking hold.

Try telling that to the suffering middle class, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Wages have utterly stagnated under Obama's watch. U.S. median household income remains 3.9 percent lower than it was when the recession ended in 2009 — and almost 8 percent lower than in 2007. While wages have lately begun to show some growth, the gains have been "slow" and "uneven," concentrated largely in metropolitan areas. For all of Obama's stimulus spending, tax increases, and efforts to raise the minimum wage, incomes didn't budge at all in 36 states last year. Not that you'll hear that in any of his stump speeches. "Perhaps it is too embarrassing to point out that the policies flaunted to reduce inequality have presided over so much more of it."

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Sergio Hernandez is business editor of The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for The DailyProPublica, the Village Voice, and Gawker.