Data on Median Wage by President

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Contents

The Table

		Left		Median	Median
		Office	Years	Wage	Wage Increase

R:Bush II	2001	1	30,510	-588
D:Clinton	2000	8	31,098	 565
R:Bush I 	1992	4	26,580	-825
R:Reagan	1988	8	29,881	-228
D:Carter	1980	4	31,701	-108
R:Ford		1976	3	32,134	-894
R:Nixon		1973	5	34,815	 632
D:Johnson	1968	5	31,657	 970
D:Kennedy	1963	3	26,809	 657
R:Eisenhower	1960	8	24,838	 631
D:Truman	1952		19,791	

Here's the same table, shortened to a really concise format:

Median Wage Increase in constant dollars.
Last three decades. Sorted Best-to-Worst.

D:Clinton	 565
D:Carter	-108
R:Reagan	-228
R:Bush II	-588
R:Bush I 	-825
R:Ford		-894

Median Wage: Explanation

Imagine you've got five people in a room:

  • Person 1: Makes $10,000
  • Person 2: Makes $11,000
  • Person 3: Makes $12,000
  • Person 4: Makes $13,000
  • Person 5: Makes $100,000

The "median wage" is the wage of the guy in the middle, person 3. So the median wage for this group of people is $12,000.

The "mean wage" is what you'd get if you pooled all their money and divided it up evenly. For these guys, the "mean wage" is $29,200.

As you can see, the "median wage", $12,000, gives you a pretty good impression of what the average guys make. In contrast, the "mean wage", $29,200, isn't even close to what the average guys make.

If somebody says "average wage", they are usually talking about the mean wage. If they say that, tell them you're not interested in the mean wage, tell them you want to hear about the median wage. That's the number that tells you what ordinary people are making.

Analysis

Median wage is the most important number there is, other than jobs: it tells you how much money the average Joe makes.

If a president has a positive "Median Wage Increase", it means that by the end of his administration, people were making more than they were before. If a president has a negative "Median Wage Increase", it means that by the end of his administration, they were making less. Note that if you got a small raise, but it was so small that it didn't even keep up with inflation, then that counts as "making less."

As you can see, fifty years ago, things were different: both parties were trying to help the average worker. Wages went up under both Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Then, starting with Ford, all that changed. From that point forward, the Republicans no longer seemed to be trying to raise wages - in fact, they seem to be trying to drive them down as fast as possible.

There is a theory to explain this: many Republicans own stock, and stockholders don't want to pay high wages, so they're happy to see wages go down. See the MemeTank entry Cheap-Labor Conservatives for more.

The change in the Republican party that started with Ford is visible in most of the other statistics as well. Check them out.

Notice that these stats show Carter in a pretty good light, yet most people seem to remember that the economy was bad during the Carter years. I have a theory on that. Carter was the first Democrat after Johnson and Kennedy. The economy absolutely roared during the Johnson and Kennedy years. People expected no less from Carter - he was a Democrat, after all, and we all knew what Democrats could do. So when his economy turned out to be, frankly, average, people saw it as a disaster. Carter was the victim, in my opinion, of incredibly high expectations.

Methodology

For this table, I summarized the census bureau's data: table P-8, People (All Races) by Median Income and Sex, Males aged 25-34. All numbers are in 2001 dollars.

For each president, I wrote down the last year he was in office, and therefore, the last year he had control over the budget. I also wrote down the median wage in that year, in 2001 dollars. I then compared each president's final result to the president before, calculated the difference in dollars, and divided by the number of years in office.

Unfortunately, the Census data only goes to 2001. Does anybody know where I can get data that goes all the way back to the 1950s, but also goes all the way forward to 2004?

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