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Why you’ve never been richer but never felt poorer

The average Aussie wage is roughly 150 per cent higher now than it was 25 years ago, but we’re not that much better off.

A composite image of a crowd of people walking on the street and Australian currency to represent money making you feel rich.
Aussies are richer than ever, but they may not feel it. (Source: Getty)

In 1998, the average Aussie worker was earning $710 a week, or $37,000 a year, which is below the national minimum wage in 2023.

But the story of wage growth is not that simple, according to new SEEK data which reveals the biggest work trends that have defined Australia over the past 25 years.

In 2023, the average full-time wage is $1,808 per week, while the average for all workers is $1,379 – up 132 per cent on 1998 wages.

“These might sound like huge jumps, but with inflation soaring, the real inflation-adjusted growth in average wages is a more modest 32 per cent for full-time workers and 20 per cent overall,” the report said.

“And not every industry has seen wages grow at the same pace. The fastest growth has been in information, media and telecommunications, where inflation-adjusted, full- time wages are 46 per cent higher than in 1998.

“At the other end of the scale is the ‘other services’ group, which includes things like automotive repair, and hair and beauty services. A full-time worker in that area makes about 14 per cent more than in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.”

Let’s compare costs today vs costs 25 years ago

In December 1996 (so just over 25 years ago), the average home price in Australia was just $171,000, which meant an Aussie earning the average $30,000 a year could potentially pay the entire thing off in just over five years if they put their entire paycheque towards it.

Today, the average Australian full-time worker earns $69,060 a year, but the median home value is $702,136. Assuming a worker was able to put their entire pay towards a home, it would take them more than 10 years. Twice as long as in 1996.

Let's add on some of the other things that cost significantly more today than they did at the end of last century.

The cost of fruit and vegetables are up 102 per cent, the cost of milk is up 66 per cent and the cost of bread is up 83 per cent.

Everyday essentials have never been more expensive, and with paypackets only climbing 32 per cent in 25 years, a clear picture is painted of why Aussies are struggling.

“Australians are experiencing the highest inflation since 1990. In total, the cost of living has soared by around 90 per cent since SEEK’s launch. Knock-on effects of the COVID pandemic, increasing cost of resources and overall strong consumer demand are all at play in this latest surge of inflation,” the SEEK report said.

“Food, fuel and new-home construction have seen especially steep climbs, and it’s clear that everyday essentials take a much bigger portion of pay packets right now.”

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