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Global Economy's Stubborn Reality: Plenty of Work, Not Enough Pay

In the three-plus decades since Ola Karlsson began painting houses and offices for a living, he has seen oil wealth transform the Norwegian economy. He has participated in a construction boom that has refashioned Oslo, the capital. He has watched the rent climb at his apartment in the center of the city.

What he has not seen in many years is a pay raise, not even as Norway's unemployment rate has remained below 5 percent, signaling that working hands are in short supply.

“The salary has been at the same level,” Karlsson, 49, said as he took a break from painting an office complex in this Oslo suburb. “I haven’t seen my pay go up in five years.”

His lament resonates far beyond Nordic shores. In many major countries, including the United States, Britain and Japan, labor markets are exceedingly tight, with jobless rates a fraction of what they were during the crisis of recent years. Yet workers are still waiting for a benefit that traditionally accompanies lower unemployment: fatter paychecks.

Why wages are not rising faster amounts to a central economic puzzle.

Some economists argue that the world is still grappling with the hangover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Once growth gains momentum, employers will be forced to pay more to fill jobs.

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