What Should You Be Earning?

In honor of Labor Day, we made a little tool—based on our project inequality.is—that shows how much you would be making if wages had kept pace with productivity, a key indicator of an economy working for all.

Economic inequality is a real and growing problem in America. Since the 1979, workers are working more, making more goods, and not reaping the rewards of their increased productivity. Instead, CEOs and executives—the top 1% of earners—now take home 20% of the nation’s income.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Growing inequality isn’t an inevitability—it was created. It’s the result of intentional policy decisions on taxes, trade, labor, and financial regulation. But that’s the good news: if inequality is not inevitable, then it can be fixed.

Take a look, and share with your friends. And remember that American workers should be earning more than we are. To do something about it, visit inequality.is.

What should you be making?

Americans' wages have lagged further and further behind productivity gains since the late 1970s, but it wasn’t always this way. After World War II, our pay rose with productivity—the more we made, the more we were paid. Today, the gap between American workers’ productivity and their wages is at an all-time high. What could you be making if wages had grown with productivity?

Enter your current annual wage:

If wages had kept up with productivity over the last three decades, your pay would be closer to:

Source: Economic Policy Institute | Methodology

  • Stephanie Sikes

    Wow. Wish I WAS making $51,173/year.

  • Joe Blow

    I don’t know how this calculates what I should be making, since I didn’t input any data, it doesn’t know anything about me.

    • Jen

      You enter your current salary then click the button. It doesn’t have to know anything about you other than what you earn. It’s a calculator based on (among other things, I assume) historical salary gains based on productivity.

    • Jimmybazball

      If you can’t figure out how to work this maybe you’re making to much :)

  • daenku32

    Sounds about right.

  • AmericanWay

    To just apply the same constant multiplier to everybody’s reported current salary/wage, regardless of how long they’ve been working and regardless of what they’re doing, assumes the everybody has been working the same amount of time and has suffered the same discount to their salary/wage!!!

    Such a calculator should take, at the VERY LEAST, as input, a salary “you”
    had at a POINT IN TIME. It then would know how long to apply this
    supposed effect of productivity gains that should have yielded me salary
    increases since that point in time.

    For this to provide actual interesting information, it should ask what kind
    of a job I do or what industry I work in, and apply the productivity
    gains over that time period for that given job or industry.

    • Rob Dinsmore

      Why don’t you try a few numbers before making such a statement? 40k results in 62.5k (1.56x) whereas 106k comes to 129k (1.2x). 2 points are enough to show that it is not the same multiplier. You should spend less time criticizing something for not being a super sophisticated model and just recognize the problem that it is trying to drive home. Executives get huge rages often and they are incentivized to reduce costs so they really do make more money by making sure that the regular workforce does not all get a cost of living raise increase.

  • Ernest Otero

    corporations are destroying America they want you to kill yourself for your job but they don’t want to pay you for it

    • glenn398

      Ernest keep in mind a corporation can’t do anything except abide by the laws that the government passes. So lets cut the head off the dragon and put the blame where it belongs on our government itself. Our government had done everything possible to make it miserable for corporations to even exist in this country.

  • David A. Semans

    I am assuming this calculator to be a cost-of-living-adjustment calculator. COLA’s and productivity adjustments are dissimilar breeds. Productivity adjustments are aka merit wage increases. Example: A person on SSA getting an annual COLA is not getting a productivity adjustment. They must work PT someplace being productive to increase their “retirement” income.

    What this calculator is actually saying is that a person earning $15,080 annually (7.25 * 40 * 52) would earn $27,501 if the minimum wage had been adjusted by COLA for the past fifty years. This increase would be enough to lift the single person, and the two income household above the 200 percentile of poverty (.familiesusa.org/resources/tools-for-advocates/guides/federal-poverty-guidelines.html ).

    The calculator is not referent to any one person working continuously the past fifty years for the same company at the same job. That would be quite a ridiculous concept. For someone as myself it would mean beginning me legal work life ( w / W4) at age seven.

    Just imagine that the income of hundreds of thousands of individuals and families could finally rise above the 200%ile level of poverty. Think of the reduction of government welfare programs. There would be more tax dollars for corporate welfare and wars.

  • mikecpi

    Ah, the persuasive power of numbers – or as Benjamin Disraeli is believed to have first said more than a century ago: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Using the calculator above, here’s a few “reality checks” to add to the appeal to greed ensconced therein. The federal poverty level for a single person would be $21,702. Alternately, that would be equivalent working 40 hours a week at a job that pays $10.43 an hour. Just a reality check. Then again a McDouble of the McDonalds Dollar Menu would be $2 each.

    • dralithi

      I’d pay a few more pennies, so they can put some food on _their_ table.

  • Lori Campbell Harris

    I work for a union and I am still making approx. 22,000 a year less than I should.

  • NguyenCPA

    I didn’t know the situation was that terrible! According to this calculator I should be making $129,624 – almost $25K more than I currently make…

    We should band together… $100K a year is not enough in today’s economy! I’d like to be paid what this calculator says I deserve – at least another 20K/year.

  • ChristianEconCom

    This also reveals how much more is being stolen from the people doing the work since 1979.

  • Erik

    If I were making $65,000, I’d have enough money saved in a year to buy a house. As it is, I can barely afford an apartment.

  • Brian Bowman


  • glenn398

    Lairs figure and figures lie. I know a lot of union workers and they make a lot less than the above figures. So if unions are the answer why are wages not a lot higher for the union workers?

    • markodochartaigh

      Even the best run unions can only do so much with such powerful forces arrayed against them. But if we are going to talk anecdotal evidence; as an RN the county hospital where I work in texas forced us to work unpaid overtime for 15 years and for 10 years paid us straight time for over 40 hours a week. If we had a strong union that would not have happened. And “If I didn’t like it, why didn’t I leave?”. Why should employees who wish to care for the uninsured masses in texas be forced to find other patients to care for in order to be paid fairly according to US law?

      • GMGoBlue

        Actually Mark, federal law says if you do a job where a license is required, be it medicine, law, real estate, real estate appraisal, . . .

        You are exempted from being paid “overtime.” Now a very few companies go ahead and do pay overtime, but it is not required. And the unions fought against this law, but alas, they lost.

    • gabesgrandma1939

      You can thank the right to work for less laws passed in so many states. Unions are down to about 7% in our country which takes away the strength they use to have in negotiations. The term strength in numbers did not come from nowhere. As long as we have politicians that do the bidding of corporations and the plutocrats that control them workers will find it impossible to unionize. We need more unions with closed shops to eliminate the freeloaders which just weaken the unions. We need stronger labor laws to protect workers that want to band together for better wages and benefits.

      • glenn398

        gabeshrandma if I buy your argument then explain because there are a lot more union states than right to work states. If there were only a few union states still don’t see the unions being strong there. Even in right to work states people have a choice to be union or not. In your other states if you work for that company you are forced to join. So in one case you have a choice and the other you don’t. Tell me which is on the path of allowing freedom.

  • http://haywoodwhy.blogspot.com/anything William W Haywood

    There are very few folks who will ever make 65 thousand a year on wages! Are you insane? People who are on salary are lucky to make that kind of money. When Dracula is your boss he/she sucks the money right out of your check like blood from a baby. It is easy for the employers to screw everyone because the government love to see the people made as poor as possible. This is stupid!

  • firedancer13

    Pretty pathetic that we live in the dark ages. Yep; the rich are getting richer and the poor is getting poorer and that gap is expansive as the ocean and we’ve got no life boat.

  • JanetHudgins

    I’m not surprised. Our gov’ts have gone to great lengths to keep wages down while gifting the loss to us to big business for money and votes.

  • Paula

    I Union working, made for this years income for
    29, 000 a 30,000 for years, I not save money, no
    going to the vacation. Wage about 50,000 this is
    because I save money for bay house, go to the
    vacation. I live Chicago, Lider SEIU Local 1
    Working for custodian Chicago Public School for company
    private UBM.

  • TedVothJr

    ‘Productivity’ is a dirty word, one of the dirtiest words in the English language…

    1 Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. James 5.

    • Timothy McDonald

      Preach, brother preach! Funny how there a those who spend so much time damning the impoverished and unfortunate as just being lazy, while ignoring the injustices perpetrated on those people by some of the rich who are selfish and greedy and take advantage of the poor when they are down. There are many scriptures reminding society to not forget to take care of the least of us but they are rarely repeated by the those who want to “take back America” and return it to its “Christian roots”. Proverbs 21:13 says, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Also, Proverbs 29:7 says, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” I do not wish to judge others for I have my own faults; rather I wish to cause some soul searching among those who are willing to put party and politics above God’s teachings.

    • Timothy McDonald

      Preach, brother. So true.

  • paul gonzalez

    How pathetic is this Ive been working for a large grocery chain store and still making $13.00 an hour after 35 years, thats union for you!

    • Chris Erwin

      Considering most non union workers in the same profession barely make above minimum wage I’d say the Union as done well by you. The only way to get the pay to a living wage is to organize with other workers to fight on a mass scale and fight for a living wage law. In other words, organize and unionize!

    • Timothy McDonald

      Without the unions (whose numbers have been on a major decline) you would have fared worse, likely much worse. Without unions, we will be slowly turning back the clock to the early 1900’s and fighting for what scraps are left over on the way there. Remember the negotiations about a decade ago where the grocery stores and unions had a major stalemate and finally negotiated an agreement where the workers had a reduction in benefits and pay for new hires, but retained $190 billion from the employers to rebuild health plan reserves, the continuation of affordable health plans for employees, and a few other smaller concessions. Without the power of the union (which admittedly has been slowly degraded over the last few decades – the decline largely began around the time period when president Reagan “fired” the air traffic controllers). Connect the dots: Republican politicians (and to a much lesser extent, Democrats) have largely been bought off by the corporations and are doing everything they can to increase profits at the top at the expense of workers and their pay and benefits – many corporations are sitting on record profits but refuse to share those profits with the workers that made those profits possible. Look at the legislation recently being passed or being attempted by Republican politicians in many states – “Right to Work” legislation sounds like a good thing maybe? Wrong! Designed to further weaken unions. SCOTUS Citizens United ruling – saying essentially that “corporations are people” further polluting politics with BIG money. Look at the votes in that decision. Do some research and start fighting for better pay and rights or kiss what we have left goodbye. Unions are to be thanked for many contributions leading to the benefits we take for granted today. Lunch, breaks, vacation, holidays, decent pay, safe working environment, discrimination/harassment protection, school instead of sweatshops for children to name a few. So either you have not been paying attention or you are not really who you claim to be. Let’s support the striking fast food workers who are only looking for a LIVING WAGE. We need to organize and fight for economic justice!

      • glenn398

        It wasn’t just the unions that gave fair wages it started at ford where his wife demanded he pay a fair wage. That ended the war between corporations and the union at that time.

    • semperfitillidie

      If I made $13 an hour I’d kiss the ground in gratitude. At least you have the union. I’ve never been in a union. I’ve been at my front desk job 12 years. I was happy there and I was making $12 an hour until 4 years ago when I was forced to take a pay cut. Now I make $11 and good luck trying to recoup my loss. My bosses keep saying they can’t raise it due to the contract, and everytime I try to find a better paying job, I never get past the interview stage.?Apparently, I’m ‘overqualified’…a fancy way of saying we don’t want to hire an older woman. I suppose they want someone younger and prettier and who will work for less $? Sure seems like it. Anyway, I’ve learned to my sorrow pay cuts are the kiss of death to one’s upward mobility. Better to get laid off and collect unemployment. Once you get stuck with a pay cut, you’re pretty much labeled by hiring managers as a ‘cheap date’ and than no one wants to pay more to you, and no matter how how your work nothing ever changes. I try to keep a positive attitude but it’s becoming incrasingly difficult since it seems like they dole out more Imore sticks and fewer carrots.. Makes me feel like a complete failure knowing nearly everybody makes more $ than I do despite my eduacational level (BA degree) and experience (more than 25 years in the workforce.) . Its frustrating and depressing, that’s what it is. The only silver lining? They’ve stopped with the line about how “you’re such a valuable worker. to us” Words mean nothing. Cold hard dollars do!

  • c fuller

    I have no major problems with the ‘wage’ (for the work I do). It’s the time, the 3 corporations I work for will not allow more than part time employment. Therefore the house is in foreclosure, no health care, long hrs. & alot of comuting…

    • Julie A. Witkowski Martin

      I think this should be illegal. It is a way for the companies to go without having to pay those benefits. Companies whose major employee base is part time need to be looked at and maybe even fined depending on their profits and #of employees. My daughter is considered a temp and has worked for the same company for over 3 years. That is just wrong.

  • mike

    i make 70 thousand a year working for the largest food distributor in north america, im a truck driver for them and we arent union, according to this i should be making 95000

  • Pamela Gromman

    I wasn’t able to put in my true salary because it was too high. Does that mean I’m overpaid?

  • haryvon1

    Guess what folks,, have you ever asked yourself how much does the president of your union makes, and how much does it cost to train low level union rep, or how much of our union dues, goes towards training ( weekend vacation) for those who hold title. Stop complaining, and pay more attention to details

  • Troy Trachsel

    I work at a car dealership as an Automotive Detailer. I am the only one in the building doing this work! I’m paid $15/hr. I have been at this career for 8 yrs. We recently had an ownership change and they are steadily increasing sales in our tiny dealership. Expansion is in the works, but not for a few years. I have enough work for at least 3 people to do and I have no room to expand into. I am reaching my breaking point!! I should be getting paid the wages of 2 employees, but I am not. The stress is killing me!!! They love the attention to detail in my work, and I am good at what I do. So where is my pay??

  • Troy Trachsel

    Thanks for the nod of appreciation !!!

  • Veronika Zhvania

    It’s hard. Things are changing rapidly. Now you either rich or poor. Rich can create more jobs and be more generous to those who work hard.