Annual Wages in the United States
Unskilled Labor and Manufacturing Workers

      What Was?
Costs of Unskilled Labor
Production Workers Compensation
Initial Year *:  
Ending Year *:
* Select initial and ending years within 1774-2013 period.

There are two data sets here. The first is an index of the money wages paid for common or unskilled labor (1774 to the present) and the second is the average hourly compensation of production workers in manufacturing (1790 to present).

It should be emphasized that both the unskilled-labor costs series and the production workers compensation series are in nominal rather than real terms. This means that they are not adjusted for inflation (changes in the cost of living). So the increase in the series over time exaggerates the real (deflated) cost of labor.

Money Wage of Unskilled Labor
This series is an index of the average money wage of a "common" or unskilled laborer. Until the late 19th century, common labor usually meant outdoor work on or off farms in tasks that required no training. With the growth of manufacturing, those in the factory called "laborer" or helper were regarded as the unskilled. After WWII, the unskilled were not counted separately, so the index is constructed from the compensation of such jobs as janitors, porters, and cleaners.

For more information see "Sources of the Unskilled Wage."

Production Workers Compensation
These data are from Two Centuries of Compensation for Production Workers in Manufacturing (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), by Lawrence H. Officer. The series is restricted to production workers, also called blue-collar workers, hourly rated workers, or nonoffice workers. The series includes both money earnings and benefits. Thus it is legitimately an average-hourly-compensation series, and is expressed as the number of dollars per work-hour. Of course, there are production workers in other sectors, but this series covers only manufacturing. Workers on salary (white-collar workers, office workers, nonproduction workers), such as clerks and executives, are excluded.

There are various sources of these data, and sources change over time; but the most recent figures are taken from official series. In particular, the money-earnings component is computed as the ratio of total wages to total work-hours, using Census data. The benefits component is computed as the product of benefits to earnings (from Bureau of Labor Statistics data) and money-earnings per work-hour. Benefits are very small before the 1930s. Full details on construction are in the volume stated above, which also provides the breakdown of the total between earnings and benefits. Since 2007, the data have been linked to the BLS series: Employer Costs for Employee Compensation, Total Compensation, Manufacturing, Private Industry (CMU2013000000000D).

For more information see "Characteristics of the Production-Worker Compensation Series"

Please read our Note on Data Revisions.


Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, "Annual Wages in the United States, 1774-Present," MeasuringWorth, . URL:

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