For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades

Following the better-than-expected September jobs report, several economic analyses have pointed out the continuing lack of meaningful wage growth, even as tens of thousands of people head back to work. Economic theory, after all, predicts that as labor markets tighten, employers will offer higher wages to entice workers their way.

But a look at five decades’ worth of government wage data suggests that the better question might be, why should now be any different? For most U.S. workers, real wages — that is, after inflation is taken into account — have been flat or even falling for decades, regardless of whether the economy has been adding or subtracting jobs.

Cash money isn’t the only way workers are compensated, of course — health insurance, retirement-account contributions, education and transit subsidies and other benefits all can be part of the package. But wages and salaries are the biggest (about 70%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and most visible component of employee compensation…