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Ididio Explores
Have salaries really been stagnant over the last decade?

We have heard this a lot, but things are never quite so simple. We investigated how salaries have changed over the past decade.

At Ididio, we like to create visualizations with our data that explore metrics we’ve read about recently. For example, this Bloomberg article about wage stagnation in recent years made us want to take a closer look at that concept.

We started with a simple time series showing the spread of wages over the last 10 years, adjusted for inflation. The dark line is the median wage for all workers, the lighter areas directly above and below it show the middle 50% of workers, and the lightest areas are all but the top and bottom 10% of workers.

At first glance, that does look like wages are pretty stagnant, with the median wage starting at just under $39,000 in 2008 and remaining about the same throughout. However, because this chart accounts for inflation, it means that wages have been steadily rising, but at the same rate as the rise in the cost of goods.

200820102012201420162018$0$20,000$40,000$60,000$80,000$100,000Worker Salary
2018 BLS Occupational Employment

So on average, after we account for inflation, wages haven’t changed. But if we look at individual jobs, are there winners and losers? To go a bit further, we created a scatterplot for wages.

Looking at jobs instead of workers, we made each occupation a dot sized based on the number of people employed in that occupation. The color is based on the generally required education for that field:

  • purple jobs: most workers have no education past high school
  • blue jobs: most workers have some college
  • green jobs: workers typically hold a bachelor’s degree
  • orange jobs: a graduate degree is typical

The higher the job is on the chart, the more the median wage of that job has increased, and the farther to the right the job is, the higher its salary tends to be.

The graphs below show changes in salary by the typical education of workers, and we see the highest gains in jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree with the biggest losses for those that require a graduate degree.

One take-away that we see from these graphs is that the advantages of a graduate degree over a well-chosen bachelor’s degree are small and are also shrinking. It also seems at first glance that workers with no or some college are generally experiencing more salary increases. The next section will help us to investigate.

No college
$0$50K$100K$150K$200KMedian salary for career-40%-20%0%20%40%60%80%Change in salary
Some college
$0$50K$100K$150K$200KMedian salary for career-40%-20%0%20%40%60%80%Change in salary
$0$50K$100K$150K$200KMedian salary for career-40%-20%0%20%40%60%80%Change in salary
$0$50K$100K$150K$200KMedian salary for career-40%-20%0%20%40%60%80%Change in salary
2018 BLS Occupational Employment
2017 ACS microdata

We’ve added a slider to isolate certain ranges of wage increases or decreases to make the chart easier to read. We have also added a couple of bar charts indicating the number of workers in the filtered group so we don’t lose track of the overall picture. This allows us – and you – to get a new look at wage changes in careers overall.

Filter careers by percentage change and education. Select a career to view the career details
Careers with a percentage change in median salary within this range
Careers with these education levels
050100150Number of CareersNo collegeSome collegeBachelor'sGraduate
010M20M30MNumer of WorkersNo collegeSome collegeBachelor'sGraduate
$0$50K$100K$150K$200KMedian salary for career-40%-20%0%20%40%Percentage change in median salary
2018 BLS Occupational Employment
2017 ACS microdata

We first looked at all jobs that lost at least 20% of their wages over the past decade. It turns out that the vast majority of workers in this category are physicians and surgeons. This data could be an artifact of our need with this data source to view all related occupations together -- perhaps the actual story with doctors is more nuanced?

When we restrict our attention to those that gained at least 20% in wages over the past decade, contruction-related workers are the biggest winners -- jobs that require no college!

We hope you explore this chart to make your own discoveries. To learn more about a job you find here that interests you, just click it to go to one of our information-rich pages with everything we have on that occupation. Perhaps you’ll see something we didn’t, and you can tell a story of your own!

Careers are presented based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) career fields. Over time, ACS updates their career fields, splitting or merging to better capture current employment. We aggregate careers with common roots so that changes in time are fairly represented. A few careers have changed too significantly for a meaningful time series cluster, and those are simply omitted from this analysis. The level of education for the careers chosen using the most prevalent level of education reported for workers in the ACS survey in the most recent year.
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