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Trends in US Wages: The PayScale Index


Today we launched our fifth release of The PayScale Index, which tracks changes in the price of labor since 2006. And for the first time since 2008, wage increases are being seen across the board.

Previously, wage growth winners were typically in just high-tech and energy industries, while workers in most other industries experienced no growth or even a loss in wages. However, the tides have turned as even workers in previously failing industries, such as construction and manufacturing, are seeing wage increases.

In this post I will look deeper into the wage trends experienced by different industries, job families and cities. These wage trends are useful for individuals to understand how overall market prices for broad labor markets are changing on average, but they won't define your individual market price. To find out what you are worth given your job title, experience level, educational background and numerous other factors, take the comprehensive PayScale Salary Survey.

Wage Winners Over the Last Year

Although most of the 15 industries, 20 metropolitan areas, and 19 job categories experienced positive wage growth over the last year, only a handful stood out as real winners. For comparison, the average 12-month growth in wages (i.e., from Q4 2010 to Q4 2011) for full-time, private industry workers was 1.0 percent.

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The five industries with the highest annual growth in wages over the last year are:

  1. Mining, Oil & Gas Exploration — 2.6%
  2. Utilities — 2.0%
  3. Information, Media & Telecommunications — 1.6%
  4. Arts, Entertainment & Recreation — 1.5%
  5. Professional, Scientific & Tech Services — 1.4%

Unsurprisingly, the top industries are dominated by energy, tech, and oil & gas — these have been tops for pay growth for a while. The one that is a bit of a surprise is arts, entertainment & recreation. Wages in this industry have grown over 2 percent in the last two quarters. This may be a sign that consumers are opening their wallets once again and increasing their spending on various forms of entertainment such as going to the movies, art museums, and amusement parks.

The five job categories with the highest annual growth in wages over the last year are:

  1. Transportation Jobs — 2.4%
  2. Science & Biotech Jobs — 2.4%
  3. Social Service Jobs — 2.1%
  4. Information Technology Jobs — 2.0%
  5. Architecture & Engineering Jobs — 1.8%

Similar to the top industries, the top job categories are dominated by tech jobs. One job category that is new to the top this quarter is transportation. Similar to consumers increasing their discretionary spending on entertainment, wages increasing for transportation jobs indicates consumers are also increasing their spending on travel. Both are signs consumers are not feeling the same pinch they were a year ago, which is good news for the economy since consumption makes up about 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The five metros with the highest annual growth in wages over the last year are:

  1. Houston-Baytown-Sugar Land, TX — 2.2%
  2. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL — 1.8%
  3. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI — 1.7%
  4. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV — 1.7%
  5. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA — 1.6%

The metros that are tops for pay growth are ones that have a strong presence of the winning industries and job categories listed above: Houston has oil and energy; Miami and Chicago have research, entertainment and travel; Washington DC and Seattle have research and tech.

All the pay increases listed above are strong relative to the U.S. average, but they are still below the annual pay increases seen before The Great Recession, where a 3% year-over-year bump was not unlikely. However, over the last few quarters, the typical annual growth in pay has been steadily climbing. If we can keep this trend going, the wage increases seen before The Great Recession might once again be a reality.

Do you feel you are due for a wage increase in your job given the current labor market? When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position or job offer, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale's full salary survey.


Katie Bardaro
Analytics Manager, PayScale, Inc.

Katie Bardaro
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