Let’s face it: If you are doing well, you think the economy is doing well. But if you are unemployed, or underemployed, or you aren’t getting a raise this year, you probably think the economy stinks. So I’ll ask: Are you getting a (good) raise for 2019? If so, consider yourself lucky. Two recent studies suggest that companies are still being Scrooge-like this holiday season, despite the good cheer (and billions of dollars) they received from last year’s tax cut.
First, the studies. This week, BankRate published fairly dismal results from its survey about pay increases. It found that 32% of employed Americans got a salary increase this past year. That’s actually even worse news than 2017, when 38% said they did.
“Pay raises and landing a higher paying job continue to be the exception rather than the rule, even in a strong economy with low unemployment,” added McBride. “Households seeking income growth are increasingly finding it ‘the old fashioned way – they earn it’ to quote an old TV commercial, usually by working more hours rather than being paid more per hour.”
Earlier, even more pessimistic results were published by AON, which surveys companies to perform its calculations. AON found that, while firms are planning to give modest pay raises this year of around 3 percent — the highest since the recession — firms are are correspondingly shrinking bonus pay and other “variable” pay by even more. Overall, that means total worker compensation will decrease in 2019.
With a tighter labor market, firms must offer higher salaries, said Ken Abosch. They are compensating by shrinking bonuses – a technique that naive job seekers might not be savvy to, he said.
“I wouldn’t call it a bait and switch. Employees prefer to get more in the way of salary increase. That’s usually stable and guaranteed as opposed to the risk inherent in a bonus,” Abosch told me. “However it may be less transparent to them that their total compensation has decreased.”
Examples can be found across the economy. When Amazon announced, with much fanfare, that it was increasing its minimum wage to $15, it also ended monthly bonuses and stock awards. The firm told CNBC that the pay increase “more than compensates” for loss of the additional income. If so, that’s a good thing. As Jonathan Morduch wrote in his book The Financial Diaries, variable pay leads to financial peril for many Americans, who have trouble planning if their monthly paychecks suffer wild swings.
It might be hard for workers to perform those complex calculations, however.
“Any time an employee overall earnings decreases, that is not good news, and that’s what we are seeing companies projecting for 2019,” Abosch said.
Labor Department data do show wages increasing overall, a promising sign for the economic recovery. Those macro calculations can be hard to distill down to the worker level, however. Wages could be up because hours worked is up, for example.
One thing that’s clear from these results: Last year’s large corporate tax cut has not led to dramatically higher wages for workers, despite the initial rush of one-time bonuses that firms doled out last year – which look increasingly like a publicity stunt, rather than a lasting jolt to worker pay.
“All indications are that corporate America is enjoying a period of good resutlts. That would lead one to think we would see overall spending increasing,” Abosch said.” However, organizations continue to be very much under the gun when it comes to holding the line on expenses and labor costs are one of the top 3 expenses…(they are) not going to easily change their spending habits.
Bankrate’s Greg McBride suggests that workers pay attention to these trends and increase their incomes by looking at new opportunities. As I’ve written before, changing jobs is the new raise, but not enough workers use this bargaining power.
“Career advancement often involves a willingness to change jobs, particularly in the early career years,” said McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst for Bankrate. “Yet only one-third of all millennials intend to capitalize on this tight labor market and look for a new job in the next 12 months.”
Still, it’s important to note that labor portability is a lovely concept in textbooks, but it’s less applicable as workers start families and set down roots.
So… did you get a raise this year, or do you expect one next year?