Since the Great Recession, the eroding middle class has been a key talking point. And during the third Republican presidential debate, hosted Wednesday by CNBC, candidates Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, in particular, called out stalled wages and the expanding gap between the nation's highest and lowest earners.
Data in fact shows low-wage U.S. occupations seeing the largest real wage declines since the recession — with lower-earners' pay falling more quickly than workers in higher-paid jobs, according to analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Inflation-adjusted or "real" wages reflect workers' purchasing power. As pay declines, so does the amount of goods and services workers can buy with those wages.
"Taking into account cost-of-living increases since the recession officially ended in 2009, wages have actually declined for most U.S. workers," according to data released last month from NELP.
"These are very serious times," said Fiorina on Wednesday during the debate, held in Boulder, Colorado. "Meantime, wages have stagnated for 40 years. We have more Americans out of work, or just Americans who have quit looking for work."
Of course, the failure of wages to keep pace with the rising cost of living is not a new trend. The declines in real wages since the downturn continue a decades-long shift of wage stagnation for pockets of American workers.