Average hourly wages are growing at a slightly slower pace over the past 12 months compared with the prior year, according to the Labor Department. Median weekly earnings are growing at a better rate, but gains have been subdued since the recession ended more than eight years ago.
Typically modest wage growth would point to remaining slack in the labor market. But that’s not the case, according to updated research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
“While higher-wage baby boomers have been retiring, lower-wage workers sidelined during the recession have been taking new full-time jobs,” paper authors Mary C. Daly, Bart Hobijn, and Benjamin Pyle wrote. “Together these two changes have held down measures of wage growth.”
It’s apparent that the 11.2 percent return, as welcome as it may be, did not result from any CalPERS investment acumen. As a recent Wall Street Journal article points out, it reflected what was happening across the spectrum of pension funds, thanks to a booming stock market, and, in fact, fell short of the 12.4 percent median return for such funds calculated by Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service.
It would take years of double-digit returns to narrow CalPERS’ pension debt, now more than a quarter-trillion dollars, and reach the 80 percent funded level deemed to be minimally sufficient.
The more likely scenario is that the gap between what it needs and what it has will continue to languish, and even grow, even though CalPERS continues to ramp up mandatory “contributions” from state and local governments – or more accurately their taxpayers. Those inflows have more than doubled in recent years, hitting cities especially hard because they devote so much of their budgets to highly paid police and fire staffs that have the most lavish, and therefore most expensive, pension promises.
Although the decline in the manufacturing economy eliminated many good jobs for high school graduates, there are still 30 million good jobs in the U.S. that pay well without a BA. These good jobs have median earnings of $55,000 and are changing from traditional blue-collar industries to skilled-services industries.
U.S. worker productivity picked up modestly in the second quarter but showed little sign of breaking out of the sluggish trend that has prevailed for more than a decade, holding back economic growth and living standards. The lethargic pace of productivity growth seen in recent years could have a critical effect on the future trajectory of wages, prices, overall economic output and government budget balances. . . . “If labor productivity grows an average of 2% per year, average living standards for our children’s generation will be twice what we experienced,” Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said in a July speech. “If labor productivity grows an average of 1% per year, the difference is dramatic: Living standards will take two generations to double.”
A run-up in stocks helped deliver a banner year for America’s public pensions. But the gains won’t be nearly enough to ensure all state and local retirees receive their promised future benefits. Large U.S. systems that oversee retirement funds for police, firefighters, teachers and other public workers earned median returns of 12.4% in the fiscal year ended June 30, according to Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service. That is their best annual result since 2014. Yet many of these public pensions remain severely underfunded despite the recent gains, meaning they don’t have enough assets on hand to fulfill all promises made to their workers. Estimates of their collective shortfall vary from $1.6 trillion to $4 trillion.