Bernie Sanders Explains Why Low Unemployment Doesn’t Mean Americans Are Better Off
Even as more Americans have jobs, many of these pay low wages, making it hard for families to get by.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants people to know there’s a bigger picture to the U.S. economy than the low unemployment numbers the Trump White House keeps touting.
In a conversation with The Los Angeles Times editorial board published on Thursday, the Democratic presidential candidate explained how despite the U.S. reaching decades-low rates of unemployment this year, many jobs are low-paying. And wage growth has largely stagnated in recent decades as income inequality rises.
“If I want to go out and get a job today, I can get a job. That’s true,” Sanders said in the interview. “But on the other hand ... I can’t find a job that pays me a wage that allows me to deal with health care and pay my rent or put gas in the car. So the economic crisis that we’re facing now is not unemployment, which is low. It is wages.”
The unemployment rate in the U.S. was 3.5% in November ― the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. Unemployment has been steadily dropping in recent years after reaching a peak of 9.6% in 2010 amid the Great Recession.
However, the average hourly wage for Americans last year had a similar purchasing power as it did in the late 1970’s ― 40 years ago, per a Pew analysis. And as Sanders pointed out to the L.A. Times, much of the gains in wages have gone to highest-income earners, as income inequality has been on the rise since the 1970s.
For many American workers, having a job simply isn’t enough to get by: About 44% of all U.S. workers qualify as “low-wage,” earning a median of about $18,000 per year, per a 2019 report from the Brookings Institution. According to the Federal Reserve, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. last year said they would not be able to afford an unexpected $400 expense.
President Donald Trump often lauds his record on the economy ― though sometimes, as is his wont, he can’t get his facts straight. Sanders, meanwhile, noted that jobs figures hardly tell the whole story.
“Unemployment is low but wages are terribly low in this country,” Sanders said. “And many people are struggling to get the health care they need to take care of their basic needs.”