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PayScale Index Q1 2019: Real Wages Down Year Over Year by 0.8 Percent

Topics: Comp Strategy

We just released the latest data for the PayScale Index, which tracks quarterly and annual trends in compensation and provides a wage forecast for the coming quarter. We create the PayScale Index to help employers understand how average wages are changing nationally, within specific metros, firm sizes, job categories and industries.

What’s the scoop with Q1 2019? It turns out, U.S. workers continued to experience negative real wage growth (wages adjusted for inflation, relative to this time last year). In fact, we’ve seen negative real wage growth relative to the previous year ever since Q2 2018. 

Real Wages Are Down 0.8 Percent Year Over Year 

The data shows that we’re in a turbulent period of the U.S. economy. Wage growth across many jobs and industries was uneven. Some jobs continued to thrive, but on the whole, the average worker saw a negative wage growth in real-wage terms. Compared to a year ago, real wages are down 0.8 percent.  

Country Quarter Q/Q Real Wage Growth Rate Y/Y Real Wage Growth Rate
United States 2017 Q2 0.0% 0.5%
United States 2017 Q3 0.2% 0.6%
United States 2017 Q4 0.1% 0.2%
United States 2018 Q1 -0.2% 0.1%
United States 2018 Q2 -2.0% -1.9%
United States 2018 Q3 -0.3% -2.4%
United States 2018 Q4 1.1% -1.3%
United States 2019 Q1 0.4% -0.8%


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For perspective, quarter over quarter (Q/Q) nominal wage growth was 0.4 percent in Q1 2019; Y/Y nominal wage growth was 0.6 percent.

Where Wages Rose

Wage growth was concentrated in certain cities with vibrant technology sectors. For example, Seattle posted the largest year over year (Y/Y) nominal wage growth; it was up by 2.5 percent Y/Y and 1/1 percent Q/Q.

San Francisco did fairly well too. While nominal wages barely moved from Q4 2018, they were up 2.4 percent Y/Y in Q1 2019. Nominal wages in San Jose are up 2.2 percent from a year ago.

[See the rankings for all major metro areas]

Nominal wage growth was also uneven across job categories. Accounting & Finance jobs saw increasing wages. These jobs posted 2.7 percent Y/Y and 1.0 percent Q/Q nominal wage growth.

Marketing & advertising jobs had 2.6 percent Y/Y and 0.4 percent Q/Q nominal wage growth.

[See the rankings for the covered job categories]

Different industries saw very different outcomes. The median industry — Engineering & Science saw 0.5 percent Y/Y nominal growth. The agencies & consultancies industry had the fastest Y/Y nominal wage growth. Wages grew 1.0 percent Q/Q, bring the Y/Y figures for this industry to 2.1 percent.

The finance & insurance industry also had strong Y/Y nominal wage growth. Wages grew 0.7 percent Q/Q and 1.9 percent Y/Y.

Where Wages Fell

Thirteen out of 32 metro areas had Q/Q nominal wages below the national median wage growth of 0.4 percent.

Nominal wages fell over the last year in Charlotte, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Houston. Charlotte had the worst Y/Y nominal growth figures, with wages falling 0.7percent. Nominal wages in Detroit fell 0.4 percent, while nominal wages in Pittsburgh and Houston fell 0.3 percent.

Eight out of 19 job categories had below median wage growth. Median wage growth was 0.4 percent for Q1 2019. Both transportation and manufacturing & production jobs had -4.8 percent Y/Y nominal wage growth. Transportation jobs, however, had a stronger Q1, posting Q/Q nominal wage growth 0.7 percent, versus 0.1 percent for manufacturing & production jobs.  

The median wage growth for all industries in Q1 2019 was 0.5 percent. Seven out of 15 industries experienced below median wage growth. Energy & Utilities saw the worst Q/Q nominal wage growth, at -0.2 percent. Although the Accommodation & Food Services industry saw 0.8 percent Q/Q nominal wage growth, wages were down by 1.1 percent Y/Y.

[See the rankings for all the industries covered in the PayScale Index]

Can I use the PayScale Index to Set Wages for My Workforce?

While the PayScale Index is helpful for understanding general trends for certain market segments, good pay decisions depends upon compensation data customized to your workforce, like you get from PayScale’s cloud software

How do I access the PayScale Index?

To view the entire interactive Q1 2019 PayScale index which reflects wage trends across various industries, job categories, company sizes and major metros, including Canada, please visit:  For information about the methodology of the PayScale Index, please visit:


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