Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

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

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

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 31, 2015

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

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

Featured Fact-check

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.

Our Sources

Martin O’Malley, interview with ABC’s This Week, March 29, 2015

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Weekly and hourly earnings data from the Current Population Survey" (main index page, series ID LEU0252881600), accessed March 30, 2015

New Hampshire Union Leader, "Democrat O'Malley back to NH," March 28, 2015

Associated Press, "O'Malley works to position himself as Clinton alternative," March 21, 2015

Email interview with Tara Sinclair, economist with George Washington University, March 30, 2015

Email interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, March 30, 2015

Email interview with Lis Smith, spokeswoman for Martin O'Malley, March 30, 2015

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Louis Jacobson

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

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up