Unemployment ebbs and flows, but one measure of the nation's economic health, average weekly wages, rarely dips.
Until now. In the latest demonstration of the struggling economy that threatens President Obama's reelection, average weekly wages fell in 2011, one of only five declines since the category was created in 1978 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a just-released review of employment in the nation's largest 322 counties, BLS found that weekly wages dropped over the year by 1.7 percent to $955 in the fourth quarter of 2011 from a high of $971 in the fourth quarter of 2010.
That means the $50,000-a-year mark, busted in the fourth quarter of 2010, has dropped back to an average yearly salary of $49,660. And the wage depression was widespread: 282 major counties suffered wage declines; just 36 saw increases.
The wage drop comes as employment has increased in a majority of the counties in the last quarter of 2011, said the agency. That irony makes it the only quarter in history in which wages shrunk while employment grew, a grim reminder that more Americans are taking additional jobs to make ends meet.
The Labor Department agency added that smaller bonus payments in the fourth quarter helped to push weekly wages down.