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Wages are growing -- just not as fast as they should be

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(credit: PublicDomainPictures) (credit: PublicDomainPictures)

Americans are enjoying fatter paychecks, although salaries aren't as juicy as they should be. 

Wage growth is "steady but slow," according to Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain, whose research at the employment site found median base pay rose 1.6 percent in October to $51,220. That's less than half the 3.5 percent pay increase recorded in January. 

"It should be closer to 3 percent, which is where it was in January," Chamberlain said in an interview. "It is accelerating somewhat, so I expect that 1.6 percent will pick up to 2 percent and beyond in the next few months."

Slow and even stagnant wages have been a hallmark of the post-recession era, with economists puzzling over the trend given the economy's relative strength. Some point to labor market slack -- or the gap between those Americans working full-time jobs and those who are underemployed or discouraged from looking for a job -- while others have blamed the decline of labor unions and the rise of low-wage jobs. 

Whatever the reason, some workers are pulling ahead while others are witnessing stagnant or even declining wages, Glassdoor found. 

Some of the occupations enjoying higher-than-average pay hikes are in retail and low-wage roles like baristas, the employment site found. It might seem odd that retail jobs are enjoying pay growth given the decline in the bricks-and-mortar retail sector, but Chamberlain noted many niche retailers are actually doing just fine.

"If you look at the retailers that are really struggling and shedding jobs, they are department stores and sporting good stores," he said. "It's commodity retail. They are being hurt because online shopping is such a better option."

Retailers that provide a pleasant customer experience, like Sephora, are performing well, which means they are willing to pay more to hire experienced cashiers and store managers. 

"There is competition for store manager-type roles," he noted. "These people are very hard to find. With unemployment down to two to three percent in many cities, these people are in demand."

Jobs that are suffering wage losses include maintenance jobs such as maintenance workers and maintenance technicians, whose pay declined 0.6 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, in October. Companies are increasingly outsourcing maintenance roles to third-party contractors, which may depress wages for those jobs. Improvements in building technology may lead to lower demand for maintenance technicians, impacting their salaries, Chamberlain added. 

The cities enjoying the fastest pay growth are San Francisco and Seattle, with pay in both cities jumping 2.1 percent compared with a year earlier. 

Below are the 5 jobs experiencing the strongest and weakest pay growth in October, according to Glassdoor. 

Top wage growth:

  1. Barista: 5.3 percent to $24,500
  2. Insurance agent: 5.3 percent to $42,729
  3. Recruiter: 5.3 percent to $51,075
  4. Restaurant cook: 4.8 percent to $28,398
  5. Bank teller: 4.4 percent to $28,837

Biggest wage declines: 

  1. Maintenance worker: -0.6 percent to $40,501
  2. Quality engineer: -0.2 percent to $71,367
  3. Maintenance technician: -0.2 percent to $44,220
  4. Attorney: -0.2 percent to $93,364
  5. Marketing manager: -0.1 percent to $65,936

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