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Significant pay raises are rare during periods of high unemployment because workers have little bargaining power to demand them.

They surely aren’t making it up at the bank. Last year, the average nationwide rate on a six-month CD was 0.44 percent. The rate on a money market account was even lower: 0.21 percent.

Now go back three decades, a time of galloping inflation, interest rates and bond yields. When Paul Volcker took over the Federal Reserve in 1979, consumer inflation was 13.3 percent, the highest since 1946. To shrink inflation, Volcker raised interest rates to levels not seen since the Civil War.

As interest rates soared, CD and money-market rates did, too. The average rate on money market accounts topped 9 percent. Treasury yields surged, pushing up rates on consumer and business loans. The 10-year Treasury note yielded more than 13 percent; today, it’s 3.5 percent.

By 1984, consumers were enjoying a sweet spot: Lower prices but rising incomes and still-historically high rates on CDs and other savings investments. Consumer inflation had slid to 3.9 percent. Yet you could still get 10.7 percent on a six-month CD.

Even after accounting for inflation, the median income rose 3.1 percent from 1983 to 1984. At the time, workers were demanding — and receiving — higher wages.

More than 20 percent of U.S. workers belonged to a union in 1983. Labor contracts typically provided cost-of-living adjustments tied to inflation. And competition for workers meant those union pay increases helped push up income for non-union workers, too.

Last year, just 12 percent of U.S. workers belonged to unions. And among union members, a majority now work for the government, not private companies. Wages of government workers are under assault as state governments and the federal government seek to cut spending and narrow gaping budget deficits.

Workers’ average weekly wages, adjusted for inflation, fell in February to $351.89. It was the third drop in four months.

The result is that even historically low inflation feels high. So “when you mention low inflation to real people on the street, they immediately roll their eyes,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Falling behind inflation is something many people hadn’t experienced much in their working careers until now. In the 1990s and 2000s, for instance, most Americans kept ahead of rising prices. Inflation averaged under 3 percent.

And inflation-adjusted incomes rose steadily from 1994 to 1999. Once the 2001 recession hit, incomes did falter. But after that, they resumed their growth, rising each year until the most recent recession hit in December 2007.

Rates on six-month CDs were also much higher than they are now: They averaged 5.4 percent from 1990 to 1999 and 3.3 percent from 2000 to 2009.

These days, though, Americans face the certainty of higher prices ahead.

Whirlpool, Kraft, McDonald’s, Clorox, Kellogg, and clothing companies such as Wrangler jeans maker VF Corp., J.C. Penney Co., and Nike say they plan to raise prices. Whirlpool, which makes Maytag and KitchenAid appliances, says it’s raising prices in response to higher raw material costs.

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