NEW YORK – If you hope to get a raise that finally feels like one, it helps to work in the right industry.
Pay for all kinds of workers should be rising by this point in the economy’s recovery. But five years after the recession officially ended, raises remain sharply uneven across industries and, as a whole, have barely kept up with prices. Overall pay has been rising about 2 percent a year, roughly equal to inflation.
The best raises have gone to workers with specialized skills in a few booming industries – energy, transportation, health care, technology. Those in retail or government have been less fortunate.
If you’re in an in-demand field, with the right skill set, the chance of getting a raise is much higher, says Katie Bardaro, an economist at PayScale, a pay-tracking firm.
Here are industry standouts – and laggards – on pay:
Oil and gas
Fracking – the pumping of liquid and sand into the ground to squeeze oil from rocks – is opposed by environmentalists worried about pollution. But it’s driven a boom in jobs and wages. Oil and gas workers earned an average 11 percent more an hour in April than they did a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Though many temp workers would like full-time jobs with benefits, at least their pay is climbing. Robert Half International, a staffing firm, says higher pay for its temps forced it to raise the rates it charges employers by 2.6 percent in the first quarter, a point higher than its increase late last year.
Non-managers at computer-system design companies earned an average 4.1 percent more in April than a year ago, the latest in a string of increases beginning in 2012. Their pay hadn’t risen in the three prior years. Pay is strong for specialists in Big Data – digital information that includes data culled from mobile devices to spot trends or build digital dossiers on people.
As manufacturing picks up, trucking companies are desperate for drivers. And not surprisingly, truckers are earning more. Hourly pay for transportation and warehouse workers was 4.4 percent higher than a year earlier in each of the past three months – a streak unmatched in over three decades.
Many of the skilled workers who are needed to build homes fled to other careers after the housing bust. Now, there aren’t enough of them. Home construction workers have received an average 3.3 percent raise a year, according to the BLS, since their wages starting rising in 2012. They’d fallen 4 percent over the previous two years.
Buck Consultants, a pay adviser, foresees raises for all construction workers, including those involved in commercial and industrial buildings, averaging more than 3 percent for a second straight year.
Consumers are spending more, but that’s not helping workers at some stores who earn the minimum wage or little more. Though some cities and states have enacted higher minimums, the minimum in 28 states is no more than the federal mandate of $7.25 an hour.
Wages for liquor-store staff rose less than 1 percent in April from a year earlier, according to the BLS. At electronics stores, pay actually fell 4 percent. Perhaps some of their money was going to workers at Internet retailers: Their pay jumped 3 percent.
Fast-food workers aren’t seeing much relief, either.
I’ve been earning $7.25 for six or seven years now, said Mary Coleman, a food preparer at Popeyes in Milwaukee. It’s hard to make ends meet.
Government budget cuts mean meager wage gains for local, state and federal workers. Wages rose less than 1 percent in 2013, according to Haver Analytics, a data provider. The unions aren’t pushing for more, said David Van De Voort, a principal at Buck Consultants. They’re focused on job security and retaining benefits.
Struggling with a fall in donations, theaters, orchestras and other arts groups appear to be retrenching. Workers in the broad category of art, entertainment and recreation, including actors, writers and musicians, earned 1.1 percent less in the first quarter than a year ago, according to a PayScale survey.
Overall, most U.S. workers have fared much better than that. But inflation has eroded their gains.