Helping the private sector create jobs is the number one goal of the government’s economic policy, according to Ministers.
But being in work is less rewarding than it used to be.
Official figures show that salaries have fallen significantly in real terms over the past five years.
And this has had a knock-on effect on industry, as money is taken out of the region’s economy.
The fall has also meant that working people were hit harder by the economic crash than anyone else.
Back in 2007, the median salary for a person with a full time job in the West Midlands was £22,559.
Median pay is the number you would get if you lined up every working person, from the lowest paid to the highest, in order of salary, pointed to the person right in the middle and asked them what they earned.
When you take inflation into account, the equivalent salary in 2012 would be £26,506.
But in fact, the West Midlands figure was £24,617 in 2012 – almost £2,000 lower.
People in work are worse off than they used to be. The numbers on their pay slip may have increased, but that increase isn’t enough to keep up with inflation.
The statistics also allow us to see how salaries vary across the region.
Median pay for people living in Birmingham in 2007 was £22,225.
That would be worth £26,113 in 2012, once you take inflation into account – while the median salary people were actually paid in 2012 was only £24,090, a loss of more than £2,000.
Median pay for Solihull residents in 2007 was £26,724.
This is the equivalent of £31,399 in 2012. But in reality, median pay for Solihull residents rose to just £29,671.
So salaries have fallen in real terms.
The pay figures come from the Office for National Statistics, which publishes details of salaries across the country every year in its Annual Survey Of Hours And Earnings.
And the adjustment for inflation was calculated using figures from the Bank of England.
For individual workers and their families, the impact of falling pay is obvious. It means we have less to spend and the number who struggle to cope with the cost of living is likely to increase.
But it also has an impact on the region’s economy, according to the TUC.
Trade unions have calculated that total pay packets in the West Midlands fell by 9.7 per cent between 1997 and 2012.
Total salaries in 2012 were £50.3 billion – but salaries in 2007, once the figure is adjusted for inflation, were £55.7 billion, which means £5.4 billion has been lost to the region’s economy.
It’s not all down to falling salaries, because there was also a small fall in the number of people with full-time jobs at all.
But the result is that businesses have fewer customers and their customers have less to spend.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Over the last five years, people have taken a massive hit in their pay packets, while millions more have had to reduce their hours or take lower paid work. Many people have lost their jobs altogether.
“Taken together, our pay and jobs crises have shrunk Britain’s total annual pay packet by more than £50 billion. It’s no wonder businesses are struggling when so much demand has been sucked out of the economy.”
The TUC is urging employers to offer better wages.
They aren’t the only people to be concerned.
Think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that working people have often been hit hardest by the impact of the economic slowdown which followed the banking crisis.
The incomes of those in their 60s and 70s have continued to rise since the slowdown, thanks largely to rising state pensions and benefits.
It means the number of pensioners in poverty has fallen, which is clearly a good thing and could be seen as a major achievement of this government, as well as the Labour government before it.
But by contrast, median income among people in their 20s fell by 12 per cent between 2007-08 and 2011-12, after adjusting for inflation – the largest fall of any age group.
This is partly because younger people are more likely to be unemployed, but also because wages fell.
David Phillips, a Senior Research Economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “The face of poverty has become much younger in recent decades.
“Whereas in the 1960s and early 1970s the poverty rate for pensioners was around six to eight times as high as for working-age adults without children, by 2011-12 the risks had near enough equalised. Indeed, once housing costs are accounted for, pensioners actually had a substantially lower risk of poverty by 2011-12.
“This is in many ways a triumph of social policy. But these figures also confirm that it is young people who have suffered most as a result of the recent recession and who are now at risk of falling further behind. It is important that policymakers and politicians understand these profound changes to patterns of low incomes.”
An analysis of child poverty also reveals a disturbing trend. Having a job is no longer a guarantee that your children won’t grow up in poverty.
A report by the think tank warned: “Increases in in-work poverty mean that in 2011-12, almost two-thirds of poor children and almost one-half of poor working-age adults without children lived in families where someone worked.”
There are suggestions that the economy might finally be on the mend. Politicians are wary of talking about the “green shoots of recovery” because they fear being mocked, but some economists and commentators believe we are now entering a period of economic growth.
With luck, that will mean unemployment starts to fall at least back to the levels it was at before the banking crash. But there’s unlikely to be a massive jump in salaries. Many of those who are lucky enough to be in work will come out of this crisis significantly poorer than they went into it.