Employment Trends: Wage Hikes at These Jobs Are Outpacing Inflation, But There Aren’t Many

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The not-so-secret truth about recent wage hikes in the United States is that while they are impressive from a historical perspective, most have been outpaced by inflation, leaving many workers with a decline in real income. That’s not true for everyone, however.

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Although average wages have been on the rise, inflation-adjusted wages are down 1.2% from December 2019, CNN reported, citing an analysis of Employment Cost Index quarterly data by Harvard economics professor Jason Furman. The index measures wages and salaries, as well as benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. During the past year alone, inflation-adjusted wages have tumbled 2.4%.

However, jobs in some sectors of the economy have gotten pay increases that beat inflation, which has been running at around 7%. For example, workers in the leisure and hospitality sector — including waiters, cooks and hotel clerks — have seen their inflation-adjusted wages climb 2% since December 2019.

Retail workers such as salespeople, cashiers and customer service representatives have seen inflation-adjusted wages rise 1.2% over the past two years. Truck drivers and other wholesale trade sector workers have eked out a 0.1% pay gain when adjusted for inflation.

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Not surprisingly, workers in the above jobs are all in high demand thanks to a combination a recovering economy and an ongoing labor shortage. The latter problem has particularly affected the hospitality and retail industries, which were forced to temporarily lay off millions of workers due to COVID-19 lockdowns and have struggled ever since to hire workers back.

At the other end of the spectrum, utility workers have seen their inflation-adjusted wages drop 1.5% during the pandemic. Financial services jobs such as bank tellers, loan officers and real estate agents have seen a 1% dip in real wages since the beginning of the pandemic.

Wage hikes differ depending on where you live. As GOBankingRates previously reported, a handful of states raised their minimum wage in 2021, including Arkansas, California, Illinois, Oregon and Virginia.

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The good news nationally is that inflation should slow in 2022 while wage gains stay robust, Furman said.

“I expect workers to make gains — real, genuine gains — this year,” he told CNN. “Probably not enough to make up for the losses in 2021, but at least we’ll start chipping away at those losses.”

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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