Visualizing How COVID-19 Has Impacted Global Wages
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Visualizing How COVID-19 Has Impacted Global Wages

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Visualizing How COVID-19 Impacted Global Wages

In the years leading up to the pandemic, annual global wage growth was fluctuating stably between 1.6%–2.2%. Now, income, working hours, and employment have all been impacted by COVID-19—but for those who have held onto their jobs, how have wages been affected?

This interactive chart from the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals how the global pandemic has affected both nominal and real wages, as well as unemployment rates.

The date of data collection varies on a country-by-country basis, using the most recent available data. The most recent measurement of wage indices is from September 2020 in some countries and the least recent available data comes from Q2’2020. In select countries the date of unemployment rates and wage indices are different. As a point of reference, the average wage index in 2019 was 100.

Note: the ILO uses national statistics databases and only the select countries had enough recent, available data for all three elements: nominal wages, real wages, and unemployment.

Where Average Wages are Falling

Average wages in many countries either plateaued or decreased significantly during the global pandemic. Sharp declines happened across a number of European countries, as well as in South Africa and Japan, for example.

CountryUnemployment RateReal Wage IndexNominal Wage Index
🇻🇳 Vietnam (as of Q2'2020)2.7%92.494.4
🇪🇸 Spain (as of Q2'2020)15.3%92.592.3
🇲🇽 Mexico (as of August 2020)5%94.498
🇿🇦 South Africa (as of Q2'2020)23.3%95.297.4
🇰🇷 South Korea (as of August 2020)3.1%96.296.8
🇷🇺 Russia (as of August 2020)6.4%96.9100.5
🇨🇿 Czech Republic (as of Q2'2020)6.6%97.899.6
🇸🇰 Slovakia (as of Q2'2020)6.6%97.899.6
🇯🇵 Japan (as of August 2020)3%98.698.7
🇫🇮 Finland (as of August 2020)7.9%99.6100.1
🇩🇪 Germany (as of Q2'2020)4.4%99.6100.5
ℹ️ Nominal wages are the actual wages/money that a worker receives. Real wages represent the relative purchasing power of nominal wages.

Falling wages, however, do not necessarily mean that people are receiving less money, as many subsidies have been put in place to help cushion income or job loss.

In many cases where wage indices declined, employment did not. This is because different job retention schemes were put in place, wherein workers were furloughed, but were given a portion of their wages from the national government. This allowed unemployment rates to remain steady while wages tapered off.

In Europe, where wages have dropped considerably in many countries, wage subsidies have compensated for nearly 40% of wage bill loss in select countries. But while high income countries can afford to inject stimulus into their economies, most lower income countries cannot. This has come to be described as the fiscal stimulus gap.

Where Average Wages are Rising

While perhaps counterintuitive, rising average wages are in no way an inherent sign of a recovering economy or labor market. Regardless, when compared to 2019, wages have actually increased in the majority of countries, such as Brazil, Canada, United States, Italy, and the UK.

CountryUnemployment RateReal Wage IndexNominal Wage Index
🇨🇦 Canada (as of August 2020)10.6%107.6108.4
🇲🇰 North Macedonia (Unemployment: Jun '20; wage data: Aug '20) 16.7%107.6109.7
🇧🇷 Brazil (as of Q2'2020)13.3%107.3109.6
🇧🇬 Bulgaria (as of June 2020)5.9%106.9107.8
🇭🇺 Hungary (as of August 2020)4.4%106.3106.5
🇮🇹 Italy (as of Q2'2020)8.3%106.2106.2
🇫🇷 France (as of Q2'2020)7.1%105.4105.9
🇷🇸 Serbia (Unemployment: Jun '20; wage data: Aug '20)7.7%104.7106.7
🇳🇴 Norway (as of Q2'2020)4.6%104.5105.6
🇺🇸 U.S. (as of September 2020)7.9%104.3106.2
🇵🇹 Portugal (as of June 2020)7.3%103.2104.2
🇹🇭 Thailand (as of Q2'2020)2%103100.6
🇷🇴 Romania (as of August 2020)5.3%102.5105.2
🇳🇱 Netherlands (as of September 2020)4.4%102103.6
🇬🇧 UK (as of September 2020)4.8%101.5102.4
🇩🇰 Denmark (as of Q2'2020)5.3%101.4101.5
🇸🇪 Sweden (as of August 2020)8.8%100.8101.6
🇨🇱 Chile (as of August 2020)12.3%100.6103.4
🇲🇾 Malaysia (as of June 2020)4.7%100.299
ℹ️ Nominal wages are the actual wages/money that a worker receives. Real wages represent the relative purchasing power of nominal wages.

One reason for higher average wages is something called the compositional effect. The compositional effect is what occurs when wages are not actually increasing, but the makeup of employment changes. For example, the loss and subsequent absence of many lower paying jobs from the labor market due to COVID-19 can skew the average wage upwards.

Brazil is a prime example of the compositional effect. As both nominal and real wages increase, so does unemployment. Brazil’s current unemployment rate is 13.3%, while wages have skyrocketed to a real wage index of 107.3 during the first half of 2020.

The loss of these lower paying jobs has been extremely widespread, most negatively impacting informal workers, self-employed vendors, and migrant workers. Some policymakers have seen this as an opportunity to call for universal basic income. Even with job retention schemes to keep unemployment steady, many people are earning far less income and may never return to normal working hours in their current positions.

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Visualizing China’s $18 Trillion Economy in One Chart

China’s economy reached a GDP of 114 trillion yuan ($18 trillion) in 2021, well above government targets. What sectors drove that growth?

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Visualizing China's Economy By Sector in 2021 Shareable

Visualizing China’s $18 Trillion Economy in 2021

China is the world’s second largest economy after the U.S., and it is expected to eventually climb into the number one position in the coming decades.

While China’s economy has had a much rockier start this year due to zero-tolerance COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain issues, our visualization covers a full year of data for 2021⁠—a year in which most economies recovered after the initial chaos of the pandemic.

In 2021, China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reached ¥114 trillion ($18 trillion in USD), according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The country’s economy outperformed government targets of 6% growth, with the overall economy growing by 8.1%.

Let’s take a look at what powers China’s modern economy.

Breaking Down China’s Economy By Sector

Sector2021 Total GDP
(Yuan)
2021 Total GDP
(USD)
% Share
Industry¥37.3T$5.9T32.6%
Wholesale and Retail Trades¥10.5T$1.7T9.2%
Finance¥9.1T$1.4T8.0%
Farming, Forestry, Animal Husbandry, and Fishery¥8.7T$1.4T7.6%
Construction¥8.0T$1.3T7.0%
Real Estate¥7.8T$1.2T6.9%
Transport, Storage, and Post¥4.7T$0.7T4.1%
Information Transmission, Software and IT Services¥4.4T$0.7T3.9%
Renting & Leasing Activities and Business Services¥3.5T$0.6T3.1%
Accommodation and Restaurants¥1.8T$0.3T1.6%
Others¥18.1T$2.8T15.9%
Total¥114T¥18T100.0%

Industrial production—activity in the manufacturing, mining, and utilities sectors—is by far the leading driver of China’s economy. In 2021, the sector generated ¥37.3 trillion, or one-third of the country’s total economic activity.

Despite a slowdown in December, wholesale and retail trades also performed strongly in 2021. As the main gauge of consumption, it was affected by lockdown measures and the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant towards the end of the year, but still rose by double digits, reaching a total of ¥10.5 trillion*.

“Other services”, which includes everything from scientific research and development to education and social services, generated 16% of China’s total economy in 2021, or ¥18.1 trillion.

*Editor’s note: At time of publishing, China’s government seems to have since adjusted this number to ¥11.0 trillion, which is not consistent with the original data set provided, but worth noting.

Where is China’s GDP Headed?

China’s economy recovered noticeably faster than most major economies last year, and as the overall trend below shows, the country has grown consistently in the years prior.

Visualizing China's GDP Growth

Before the pandemic hit, China’s quarterly GDP growth had been quite stable at just above 5%.

After the initial onset of COVID-19, the country’s economy faltered, mirroring economies around the globe. But after a strong recovery into 2021, resurging cases caused a new series of crackdowns on the private sector, slowing down GDP growth considerably.

With the slowdown continuing into early 2022, China’s economic horizon still looks uncertain. The lockdown in Shanghai is expected to continue all the way to June 1st, and over recent months there have been hundreds of ships stuck outside of Shanghai’s port as a part of ongoing supply chain challenges.

China’s Zero-COVID Policy: Good or Bad for the Economy?

While every country reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic differently, China adopted a zero-COVID policy of strict lockdowns to control cases and outbreaks.

For most of 2021, the policy didn’t deter GDP growth. Despite some major cities fully or partially locked down to control regional outbreaks, the country’s economy still paced well ahead of many other major economies.

But the policy faced a challenge with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Despite lockdowns and an 88% vaccination rate nationally, seven out of China’s 31 provinces and all of the biggest cities have reported Omicron cases.

And China’s zero-COVID policy has not affected all sectors equally. Industrial production rose by more than 10% in the first 11 months of 2021, despite city lockdowns around the country. That’s because many factories in China are in suburban industrial parks outside the cities, and employees often live nearby.

But many sectors like hotels and restaurants have been more severely affected by city lockdowns. Many global economies are starting to transition to living with COVID, with China remaining as one of the last countries to follow a zero-COVID policy. Does that ensure the country’s economy will continue to slow in 2022, or will China manage to recover and maintain one of the world’s fastest growing economies?

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

Robust growth in mortgages has pushed U.S. consumer debt to nearly $16 trillion. Click to gain further insight into the situation.

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

According to the Federal Reserve (Fed), U.S. consumer debt is approaching a record-breaking $16 trillion. Critically, the rate of increase in consumer debt for the fourth quarter of 2021 was also the highest seen since 2007.

This graphic provides context into the consumer debt situation using data from the end of 2021.

Housing Vs. Non-Housing Debt

The following table includes the data used in the above graphic. Housing debt covers mortgages, while non-housing debt covers auto loans, student loans, and credit card balances.

DateHousing Debt
(USD trillions)
Non-Housing Debt
(USD trillions)
Total Consumer Debt
(USD trillions)
Q1 20035.182.057.23
Q2 20035.342.047.38
Q3 20035.452.107.55
Q4 20035.962.108.06
Q1 20046.172.138.30
Q2 20046.342.128.46
Q3 20046.642.208.84
Q4 20046.832.229.05
Q1 20057.012.199.20
Q2 20057.232.269.49
Q3 20057.452.359.80
Q4 20057.672.3410.01
Q1 20068.022.3610.38
Q2 20068.352.4010.75
Q3 20068.652.4611.11
Q4 20068.832.4811.31
Q1 20079.032.4611.49
Q2 20079.332.5311.86
Q3 20079.562.5812.14
Q4 20079.752.6312.38
Q1 20089.892.6512.54
Q2 20089.952.6512.60
Q3 20089.982.6912.67
Q4 20089.972.7112.68
Q1 20099.852.6812.53
Q2 20099.772.6312.40
Q3 20099.652.6212.27
Q4 20099.552.6212.17
Q1 20109.532.5812.11
Q2 20109.382.5511.93
Q3 20109.282.5611.84
Q4 20109.122.5911.71
Q1 20119.182.5811.76
Q2 20119.142.5811.72
Q3 20119.042.6211.66
Q4 20118.902.6311.53
Q1 20128.802.6411.44
Q2 20128.742.6411.38
Q3 20128.602.7111.31
Q4 20128.592.7511.34
Q1 20138.482.7511.23
Q2 20138.382.7711.15
Q3 20138.442.8511.29
Q4 20138.582.9411.52
Q1 20148.702.9611.66
Q2 20148.623.0211.64
Q3 20148.643.0711.71
Q4 20148.683.1611.84
Q1 20158.683.1711.85
Q2 20158.623.2411.86
Q3 20158.753.3112.06
Q4 20158.743.3712.11
Q1 20168.863.3912.25
Q2 20168.843.4512.29
Q3 20168.823.5412.36
Q4 20168.953.6312.58
Q1 20179.093.6412.73
Q2 20179.143.6912.83
Q3 20179.193.7712.96
Q4 20179.323.8213.14
Q1 20189.383.8513.23
Q2 20189.433.8713.30
Q3 20189.563.9513.51
Q4 20189.534.0113.54
Q1 20199.654.0213.67
Q2 20199.814.0613.87
Q3 20199.844.1313.97
Q4 20199.954.2014.15
Q1 202010.104.2114.31
Q2 202010.154.1214.27
Q3 202010.224.1414.36
Q4 202010.394.1714.56
Q1 202110.504.1414.64
Q2 202110.764.2014.96
Q3 202110.994.2415.23
Q4 202111.254.3415.59

Source: Federal Reserve

Trends in Housing Debt

Home prices have experienced upward pressure since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is evidenced by the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which has increased by 34% since the start of the pandemic.

Driving this growth are various pandemic-related impacts. For example, the cost of materials such as lumber have seen enormous spikes. We’ve covered this story in a previous graphic, which showed how many homes could be built with $50,000 worth of lumber. In most cases, these higher costs are passed on to the consumer.

Another key factor here is mortgage rates, which fell to all-time lows in 2020. When rates are low, consumers are able to borrow in larger quantities. This increases the demand for homes, which in turn inflates prices.

Ultimately, higher home prices translate to more mortgage debt being incurred by families.

No Need to Worry, Though

Economists believe that today’s housing debt isn’t a cause for concern. This is because the quality of borrowers is much stronger than it was between 2003 and 2007, in the years leading up to the financial crisis and subsequent housing crash.

In the chart below, subprime borrowers (those with a credit score of 620 and below) are represented by the red-shaded bars:

Mortgage originations by Credit Score

We can see that subprime borrowers represent very little (2%) of today’s total originations compared to the period between 2003 to 2007 (12%). This suggests that American homeowners are, on average, less likely to default on their mortgage.

Economists have also noted a decline in the household debt service ratio, which measures the percentage of disposable income that goes towards a mortgage. This is shown in the table below, along with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate.

YearMortgage Payments as a % of Disposable IncomeAverage 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate
200012.0%8.2%
200412.2%5.4%
200812.8%5.8%
20129.8%3.9%
20169.9%3.7%
20209.4%3.5%
20219.3%3.2%

Source: Federal Reserve

While it’s true that Americans are less burdened by their mortgages, we must acknowledge the decrease in mortgage rates that took place over the same period.

With the Fed now increasing rates to calm inflation, Americans could see their mortgages begin to eat up a larger chunk of their paycheck. In fact, mortgage rates have already risen for seven consecutive weeks.

Trends in Non-Housing Consumer Debt

The key stories in non-housing consumer debt are student loans and auto loans.

The former category of debt has grown substantially over the past two decades, with growth tapering off during the pandemic. This can be attributed to COVID relief measures which have temporarily lowered the interest rate on direct federal student loans to 0%.

Additionally, these loans were placed into forbearance, meaning 37 million borrowers have not been required to make payments. As of April 2022, the value of these waived payments has reached $195 billion.

Over the course of the pandemic, very few direct federal borrowers have made voluntary payments to reduce their loan principal. When payments eventually resume, and the 0% interest rate is reverted, economists believe that delinquencies could rise significantly.

Auto loans, on the other hand, are following a similar trajectory as mortgages. Both new and used car prices have risen due to the global chip shortage, which is hampering production across the entire industry.

To put this in numbers, the average price of a new car has climbed from $35,600 in 2019, to over $47,000 today. Over a similar timeframe, the average price of a used car has grown from $19,800, to over $28,000.

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