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Running Faster to Stay in Place

Authors: Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow for Digital Policy, and Jared Bernstein
June 2005
New America Foundation


Trying to make sense of the steady stream of economic news can be frustrating. Is the economy getting better or worse? The news seems to change weekly and, depending on what is measured, can seem bleak or sunny. Wages are stagnant but productivity is up. The unemployment rate declines but so does labor force participation.

We can't even begin to understand how America is faring economically unless we first establish how its families are doing -- how much they're earning and how many hours they must work to earn this income.

We have set out here to examine the number of hours worked by families and the link between wage growth and work hours in families of different incomes. In order to illuminate these trends, we present new data on the increase in hours worked by married-couple families and the contribution that wives' income make to real income growth in these families. We put this recent period in the context of the post-War period and explore the implications of the data we present. Finally, we offer some directions for policy consideration.

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