From financial advisers to restaurant workers — where wage gains are above average

Mitchell Hartman Mar 5, 2020
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

From financial advisers to restaurant workers — where wage gains are above average

Mitchell Hartman Mar 5, 2020
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Wage gains for U.S. workers have slowed over the past year, with average hourly earnings rising approximately 3% year over year at the beginning of 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from an annual rate of wage growth of 3.5% in early 2019.

But there can be significant variation pay-growth between jobs. In an economy facing acute skill and labor shortages, and with unemployment as low as 2% in the hottest job markets, workers in some occupations are getting more paycheck bounce.

The jobsite Glassdoor’s most recent report found median pay rising 2.5% per year for U.S. workers overall. But pay for some jobs in finance is rising much faster: 13.2% for loan officers, 5.5% for financial advisers.

“In the last year, we’ve seen dual rebounds in the stock and housing markets,” said Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao. “That’s translating into bumps in pay for finance workers.”

After years of tight budgets and stagnant wages, teachers have seen solid pay gains recently, said Zhao. “They are union represented, and they have been pushing local legislatures to increase pay. I wouldn’t expect that to change any time soon.”

John Walrod, 43, has been teaching third grade for 15 years at the Metropolitan Learning Center, a public K-12 alternative school in Portland, Oregon. (Mitchell Hartman)

Teacher John Walrod in Portland, Oregon, says he’s benefiting from the success of his local union, the Portland Association of Teachers, in bargaining for steady pay increases of 2.5% to 3% per year. He’s a public school teacher with 15 years’ experience and two master’s degrees under his belt.

“I’m at the top of the salary scale now, which means $88,000,” he said. “I feel like I’m at a good place, I finally have a little bit of breathing room.”

Walrod’s wife teaches at the same school and their two elementary-age children attend.

“We have really quite good benefits,” Walrod said, referring to health insurance and retirement programs. “A new teacher, though, can’t pay their rent with dental insurance. I always feel a little guilty when I have a student teacher in here and they’re racking up student debt. The best advice I can give them is: find a job that values you a little bit more, to start out.”

Security officer is another occupation with well-above-average wage growth, at 6.5% year over year, according to Glassdoor’s monthly job market report. “It’s one of those jobs where you’re seeing strong pay growth because there’s an underlying demand that doesn’t go away as the economy continues to expand,” said Zhao. “And the job isn’t in danger of being completely automated away anytime soon.”

Restaurant work is also delivering above-average wage gains. Glassdoor reports pay for cooks and managers is up about 3.5% in the past year.

Verna Anderson, 56, in the kitchen office of an oil camp in Alaska, where she worked as a cook and food manager in 2018 and 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Verna Anderson, 56, has been cashing in on those higher wages. She’s a culinary institute certificate and has worked in kitchens on and off since she was a teenager.

Over the past two years, she’s cooked a lot of pancakes and prime rib.

“I worked up on the North Slope of Alaska in the oil fields — in “man-camps, they call them — out on an island in the Beaufort Sea,” she said. “It’s a lot of cooking and cleaning, managing, ordering.”

The gig also included six months of darkness, bone-chilling wind and hungry polar bears.

On the upside, she said, was the pay: $21 per hour, plus lots of overtime.

“I made about $69,000 a year. I would work for two weeks and then come back here. Now, when I say I worked, they were 15-hour days, every single day, no day off.”

Anderson came home to Portland last month and she’s now interviewing for jobs in security and corrections. It’s work she’s done before — supervising inmates and kitchen operations in a state prison and screening passengers as a TSA officer at Portland International Airport.

TSA is currently in a hiring freeze, but Anderson said she would gladly go back if the agency starts hiring again.

“It may not pay the greatest, but it’s a good environment, really. The public hates you, but your coworkers are wonderful,” she said.

Correction (March 6, 2020): Previous versions of this story misstated Daniel Zhao’s title. Zhao is a senior economist at Glassdoor. They have been corrected.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.