In the last decade–2005 to 2016–wages for workers in China’s manufacturing sector have tripled. That’s the good news. It means Chinese workers have more money in their pockets to buy goods and services–some of which come from other global economies that include the United States. Higher wages for Chinese workers are good for the global economy.
The bad news is that tripling wages for China’s manufacturing jobs still leaves them at just, on average, $3.60 an hour, according to Euromonitor International. Add in productivity growth as China’s workers have more capital goods to use in their jobs and better education and training and you can see why companies might still be attracted to moving jobs to China. In February the average hourly manufacturing wage for all production and non-supervisory workers in U.S. manufacturing was $20.62, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the truly horrible news for global workers no matter where they live is that wages in a whole swath of countries have actually declined in this decade. Not that they were all that high to start with.
In this same period manufacturing wages fell to $2.70 a hour in Brazil from $2.90, to $2.10 a hour in Mexico from $2.20, and to $3.60 an hour in South Africa from $4.30.
India represents relatively (but only relatively) good news since manufacturing wages there have stagnated since 2007. At 70 cents an hour on average.
The really bad news comes from what have been dubbed the peripheral economies of Europe. It’s certainly no surprise that manufacturing wages in Greece have been cut in half since 2009. But the picture in Portugal isn’t much brighter. Average wages in manufacturing there have fallen to $4.50 a hour from $6.30.
I can easily imagine the day when the average manufacturing worker in China sees a higher average hourly wage than the worker in Portugal.
And just in case you’re looking for another benchmark, no matter how depressing: German robot maker Kuka estimates a typical robot costs about $5.38 an hour to operate over its life. (And remember that unlike human workers, the robot doesn’t receive any benefits (health care, unemployment insurance, holiday pay) that (some) human workers receive.