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Essential workers have gotten big raises since the pandemic—but they’re making less because of inflation, new study says

June 29, 2022, 10:52 AM UTC
Restaurant servers saw the largest gains with an increase to $21,300 annually this year from $17,100 in 2019, and about a third of wait staff surveyed consider their wages to be fair.
Olivier Douliery—AFP/Getty Images

Wages are rising for workers considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, but few consider themselves fairly paid. 

These are some of the findings by software company Payscale, which analyzed nearly 268,000 salary profiles and found that pay has climbed for a number of workers including house cleaners, nurses, and food service employees. Servers saw the largest gains with an increase to $21,300 annually this year from  $17,100 in 2019, and about a third of wait staff surveyed consider their wages to be fair.

It’s a smaller proportion for the 29 other job roles in the study. Just 11% of non-profit program directors consider their pay to be adequate, for instance, even with their annual salary projected to rise 12% to $62,900 this year versus in 2019 — more than three times the federal poverty income level for a two-person household.

Pay increases recorded between 2019 and 2022 have been nullified by an inflation rate that has quintupled over that period. A separate report by the Capital One Insights Center in March 2020 found that only 9% of people earning less than $25,000 annually said their wages kept up with the cost of living, compared to 31% of those earning more than $100,000 a year who said the same.

Employees’ perception of pay transparency at their companies was also a crucial factor in their decision to stay, the study found. Workers who said their employer offered the least amount of transparency were 88% more likely to find a new job than those who said their employer offered the most amount of pay transparency. Similarly, workers who said their bosses offered the least amount of communication were six times more likely to seek a new job than those whose managers offered the most. 

If low-income workers end up moving to new roles, their wage gains are unlikely to last. Job listings for eight roles covered by the study would result in a loss of income, and four would result in no pay increase at all. 

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