Half-True
O'Malley
In the United States, we’ve had "12 years in a row of wages declining."

Martin O'Malley on Sunday, March 29th, 2015 in an interview on ABC's "This Week"

Martin O'Malley says U.S. has seen falling wages for 12 straight years

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley appeared on ABC's "This Week." Was his claim about wages accurate? We took a closer look.

Assuming she runs, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has assembled a formidable lead in the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. But there’s still a chance she’ll get some competition before the primaries and caucuses start next year.

One of those potential candidates is Martin O’Malley, who served two terms as governor of Maryland. O’Malley, like Clinton, hasn’t officially announced a bid yet, but he recently traveled to New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation primary, and he sat for an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week.

During the interview, O’Malley decried the long-term economic fraying of the American dream, saying the United States has had "12 years in a row of wages declining." A reader suggested we check out this claim, so we did.

We turned to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, zeroing in on the annual averages for median, inflation-adjusted, usual, weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers. That sounds like a mouthful -- but when we ran it by two economists, Tara Sinclair of George Washington University and Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution, both said it was the same metric they would have used.

Here’s a summary of the data between 2002 and 2014:

 

Year

Median, inflation-adjusted, usual, weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers (annual average)

Change from previous year

2002

$ 338

--

2003

337

$ -1

2004

338

+1

2005

333

-5

2006

333

0

2007

335

+2

2008

335

0

2009

345

+10

2010

342

-3

2011

336

-6

2012

335

-1

2013

333

-2

2014

334

+1

Whole period (2002-2014)

--

-4

 

Here’s where O’Malley has a point: Wages were indeed lower in 2014 than they were 12 years earlier.

But here’s where his phrasing is misleading: It’s not accurate to say the United States has had "12 years in a row of wages declining."

This makes it sound like wages dropped, in lockstep, in each of those 12 years. That’s not the case -- as the chart above shows, wages fell in six of the 12 years, rose in four years, and remained steady in two years.

Indeed, over the 12-year period in question, weekly earnings remained in a fairly narrow band -- sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but only deviating by $4 a week over 12 years, a decline of just over 1 percent from where they started in 2002. That’s more accurately described as a sideways trend line than as a steady decline.

"Gov. O’Malley misspoke or simply was in error," Burtless said.

O’Malley’s office did not dispute the data we found. Spokeswoman Lis Smith said O’Malley has previously used a different formulation -- that "over the last 12 years, wages have been going down, not up." He used that phrasing in Iowa recently, for instance. And that wording would have been more accurate than what he said on This Week.

Our ruling

O’Malley said that in the United States, we’ve had "12 years in a row of wages declining."

He has a point that, using the most appropriate measure of compensation, weekly wages adjusted for inflation are lower now than they were 12 years ago. But they have not fallen consistently and inexorably, as the phrasing of his claim on This Week suggests. We rate the claim Half True.