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The Labor Department released its latest jobs report this morning, and the report for November was the usual: respectable number of jobs created (228,000), unemployment rate holding low and steady (4.1 percent nationally), and growth in wages slow-poking along—only 2.5 percent higher than November 2016.

On the other hand, when you look at companies’ cost of labor, a different story emerges. Calcbench took a peek, and found that so far this decade, labor costs are far outpacing the rate of inflation.

We started by looking at the Selling, General & Administrative line-item for the S&P 500. SG&A costs aren’t a precise metric for labor costs, but they are a reliable barometer. For example, the salary costs of all non-sales personnel roll into “general and administrative.” Commissions a company might pay fall under “sales.” So labor costs are in SG&A, and many other items that roll into SG&A include their own labor costs as well. (Say, shipping fees, which are partly determined by the labor costs your shipping agent has.)

With our Data Query Tool, we pulled SG&A costs for the S&P 500 from the start of 2010 through third-quarter 2017. Then we calculated the incremental increase in SG&A costs (with first-quarter 2010 equaled 1.o) and mapped that to inflation over the same period as determined by the Consumer Price Index.

We got this:

As you can see, SG&A costs (in blue) are increasing at a pace well above inflation. A dollar’s worth of goods in 2010, indexed for inflation, now costs roughly $1.13. But a dollar’s worth of SG&A costs in 2010 now costs $1.32.

Why aren’t wages keeping up with labor costs? That’s an economic question that hinges on the available supply of labor, the types of labor provided (high-skilled labor costs more), and other factors, all of which are beyond the scope of this post.

Suffice to say, however, that the next time you see a CEO complaining on Bloomberg or CNBC that the costs of labor are his or her biggest concern— that CEO isn’t wrong. Labor costs are going way, way up.


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