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Workers' Groups Say US Economy is Growing, But Not Wages

As the United States celebrates its Labor Day on Monday, a workers advocate group says real wages for American workers have been stagnant or declining over the past four years. VOA's Barry Wood has more.

The Economic Policy Institute says from 2003 to 2007 the median hourly wage in the United States declined by over one percent. Going back to 2001 when the current economic expansion began, the institute says real wages have risen somewhat. Lawrence Mishel, co-author of an institute report on wages, says there is a growing gap between rich and poor.

"Most workers - be they a college grad or a non-high school grad - have not had a wage increase for five years. All of the income growth is going to the corporations and the very highly paid workers, the CEOs and such," he said.

The US economy has been growing at a 3 to 5 percent pace over the past six years, and output per worker has been rising. "The work force has been more productive than ever," said Jared Bernstein, a senior researcher at the Economic Policy Institute. "You see that showing up in all kinds of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and productivity accounts. Where you don't see it showing up is in workers' pay checks."

Organized labor in the United States is solidly in the camp of the Democrats, who last November won control of both houses of Congress. Democrats were instrumental in forcing President Bush to accept the first increase in America's minimum wage in 10 years. That recently approved rise brings the minimum wage to $5.85 per hour.

Some 4.6 percent of the U.S. work force, or about 7 million Americans, are unemployed. But, according to John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, America's labor federation, more than 40 million workers do not have health care insurance.

He says health care reform will top the labor union's agenda after the 2008 presidential election.