The state of labor, in five charts

By: - September 7, 2021 6:00 am
construction workers

Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

After 18 months of coping with health concerns and economic uncertainty during the pandemic, Labor Day is a much-needed break for many workers in Minnesota and across the country.

Before the pandemic, there was little to celebrate for many American workers. Pay stagnated and racial wage gaps persisted for decades, even as the economy grew and productivity increased. 

It seems the pandemic — and, crucially, the government’s response — may have changed that. Government propped up the economy by giving out several trillion dollars to businesses and households. Unemployed workers were given extra money, which allowed some to be more choosy in their job search. That in turn has made some businesses desperate to hire workers, giving job hunters more leverage. Wages are growing as a result, even after the recession last spring.

But it’s unclear whether those gains are here to stay, or just a temporary feature of an unusual labor market.

“There’s just a lot of unknowns about this, for obvious reasons,” said Joe Ritter, a University of Minnesota economist. “We haven’t had a pandemic of this magnitude for over 100 years, and things were a little different back then.”

Here’s more on the state of labor in the United States, in five charts.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.