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Worst Jobs for Wage Growth

Worst Jobs for Wage Growth

By Charyn Pfeuffer, PayScale.com

Let’s face it: There are a lot of lousy jobs out there, but if you’re trying to earn enough to pay your bills and perhaps build some wealth, you want to avoid jobs where wage growth trends are furthest behind the national averages.

According to The PayScale Index, compiled by online salary database PayScale.com, the national average wage growth for all job categories between 2006 -- the last full year before the recession -- and the second quarter of 2012 was 6.5 percent. Wages in some areas, such as science, biotech, architecture/engineering and healthcare, grew by at least 8 percent during that time, while wages in other categories experienced growth as low as 0.8 percent.

Katie Bardaro, lead analyst at PayScale, says the worst wage growth is found in job categories hardest hit in the recession, such as retail and food service. “People tend to cut back discretionary spending in an economic downturn and have a harder time going out to eat or buying new clothes,” she says. When consumers spend less in a recession, salespeople don’t earn bonuses for meeting their quotas and waiters’ tips decline.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but the following career fields probably didn’t fulfill many champagne-and-caviar dreams over the past few years. Here are the five worst job categories for salary growth from 2006 through Q2 2012 in the PayScale Index:

1. Food Service
Wage Growth: 0.8 Percent

Food service jobs aren’t exactly known for high pay -- many opportunities are part time and require minimal education. However, recent wage trends here have been truly dismal. Earnings for jobs in this category increased only 0.8 percent over the last six years. Perhaps the near-1 percent growth in Q2 2012 is the beginning of a more positive trend.

Find food service jobs.

2. Legal
Wage Growth: 2.6 Percent


Despite what you may think, not everyone in the legal industry is fabulously wealthy. Earnings for people working in legal jobs grew only 2.6 percent between 2006 and Q2 2012. Fortunately, their wages enjoyed a healthy bump of more than 1 percent in Q2 2012. Will the good news keep coming? Based on the recent up-and-down pattern for earnings in this category, the jury’s still out.

Find legal jobs.

3. Retail
Wage Growth: 3.1 Percent


When the economy struggles, retail workers really feel it in their wallets. The good news is that earnings in this job category have risen in 2012. “This wage increase is a sign that people are feeling more comfortable with the economic situation,” Bardaro says. “Workers in retail are getting higher commissions and more hours.”

Find retail jobs.

4. Construction
Wage Growth: 3.4 Percent

When the housing bubble burst, plenty of heavy equipment operators, construction project managers and others who work in construction saw their incomes plummet. This negative trend lasted well into 2011, beyond the point in 2010 when national wages started trending upward. Fortunately, signs of a recovery have taken hold, and construction workers’ earnings have grown more than 2 percent since mid-2011.

Find construction jobs.

5. Sales
Wage Growth: 4 Percent


Salespeople sell to companies and consumers who have money in their pockets. During the recession, this already challenging gig became tougher because many of those potential customers simply did not want to spend money. Fortunately for sales workers, sales wages saw a significant increase in early 2012.

Find sales jobs.

Source: The PayScale Index tracks quarterly changes in total cash compensation for full-time, private-sector employees in the US. In addition to a national index, it includes separate indices for specific industries, metropolitan areas, job categories and company sizes. The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.

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