Originally published in The Guardian on May 18, 2023

Wages are growing the best they have for 11 years, but real wages are now back at the level they were 14 years ago

The good news of the strongest wages growth since 2012, writes policy director Greg Jericho, in his Guardian Australia column, is tempered by the fact that real wages have fallen back to levels last seen in early 2009.

The 3.7% growth in the wage price index demonstrates that workers are finally seeing some return for the tighter labour market in which unemployment is at around 50-year lows. It also reflects that public servants are also becoming free of the wage caps over the past decade that had purposefully kept wages down.

In the March quarter for the first time in more than a decade, public-sector wages grew by 0.9%. Private-sector wages have also grown above 0.75% for 4 straight quarters – the first time since September 2012.

But even with this very good wage growth, workers are seeing their living standards fall. In real terms, wages fell 3.1% in the past year and are now 5.4% below where they were before the pandemic. This destruction of purchasing power will take many years to recover. And it highlights that wages should rise faster than inflation and with workers being the ones who have suffered the most from inflation, they should not be expected to suffer once inflation is back within normal ranges.

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