As summer comes to an end ahead of Labor Day, many might ask if American workers are better off than a year ago. Surprisingly, the answer is yes, although the improvement in many respects is relatively modest and many households continue to struggle.
The national jobless rate stands at 9.1%, down from 9.6% a year ago. An additional 1.4 million Americans are working compared with a year ago. In terms of workers’ 401(k) plans, despite the stock market’s recent turmoil, the S&P 500 benchmark index is up 16% from its year-ago level.
Workers have generally seen some rise in their paychecks during the past twelve months, with hourly earnings up 2.3% during the past year.
Unfortunately, prices (led by food and energy) have climbed even faster, with a rise estimated at slightly over 3.0%. Workers owning homes have also seen little improvement in that part of their wealth. The national Case-Shiller home price index is down about 4.5% from a year ago.
On balance, the latest survey shows Americans more concerned about the future than the present. A lack of confidence may be our biggest problem this Labor Day.