The tight US labor market during the last couple of years benefited the bold.
Almost half of the workers who changed jobs were rewarded with a pay raise that exceeded the rate of inflation, meaning that their real hourly wage was going up, according to a blog post by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The figure was 49 per cent for job-switchers in 2022, while only 42 per cent of people who stayed in their job managed to stay ahead of inflation.
The surging cost of living since the pandemic hit has left many US workers struggling to keep up. A majority saw their real wages fall last year, while in 2019 most people were getting above-inflation pay raises. But overall numbers don't tell the whole story, because wage growth varies a lot across the economy. Increases in median wages "- tracked by the Atlanta Fed, among others "- are oft-cited numbers but they don't capture the distribution of pay raises.
Older Workers Lag
The Atlanta Fed analysis, conducted by senior policy adviser John Robertson, seeks to dig into some of those details. One finding was that younger workers, as well as job switchers, had a better chance of keeping up with inflation.
Only 38 per cent of employees age 55 and older saw an increase in their real wages last year, a drop of 15 percentage points from the pre-pandemic numbers in 2019. By comparison, 60 per cent of workers age 16 to 24 got an above-inflation raise last year.
Among all workers, Robertson found that the share of those who got a real pay increase last year dropped by 12 percentage points from 2019, to 45 per cent, as inflation eroded gains in nominal pay.
Those nominal wage bumps also vary widely. The Atlanta Fed study found that about one-quarter of employees got a raise of close to 20 per cent or even higher. Meanwhile, for the quarter of the workforce with the smallest gains, pay didn't even increase in straight dollar terms "- let alone after adjustment for inflation.
The research is based on data from the Atlanta Fed Wage Growth Tracker, which measures the median percentage change in hourly pay for the same individual observed 12 months apart.