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Best and worst industries for getting a raise

Rick Newman

If you’ve gotten a raise lately, you’re in a distinguished minority. Most U.S. workers are seeing no bump in pay, and many people even work for less than they used to.

There are fresh signs, however, that 2015 could be the Year of the Overdue Raise, as hiring strengthens and companies become increasingly willing to offer more for the skilled employees they need. With the job market showing signs of getting back to normal, Yahoo Finance asked PayScale, the compensation-research firm, to identify industries where workers have the best and worst likelihood of getting a raise this year. Here are the findings:

Source: Payscale. Graphic: Siemond Chan

PayScale ranked industries by analyzing data that reflects pay trends over both the short and long term.

The first criterion measures the percentage of people who got a raise during the last 12 months, whether they asked for one or not. Nationwide, 41% of workers got a raise within the last year. None of the 5 industries at the bottom of the scale did better than average, and only 2 of 5 industries at the top did. Mining (47%) and construction (46%) were the two industries with the highest percentage of workers who got raises, though they scored lower on two other criteria, which bumped them from the top 5.

The second metric is wage growth relative to the U.S. average during the last 12 months. Wages across all industries are up by 1.7% per year, according to Payscale's wage data. So if wage growth in retail is 2.1 percentage points better than that (as shown in the graphic above), total wage growth for that field would be 3.8%.  All industries in the top 5 exceed the national average for wage growth, while only 1 industry in the bottom 5—real estate—did better than average.

The final criterion, career wage growth, measures the pay hike workers are likely to get over time if they stay in their field for more than 10 years. Each of the top 5 beat the national average, which is a 55% increase in pay for an entry-level worker who reaches midcareer status in the same field. Each of the bottom 5 except wholesale trade came in below average. PayScale combined all three criterion to generate a “raise score” that determined the final rankings.

Overall, the findings show that both high- and low-paid workers are beginning to get raises, since the top 5 industries include highly skilled professionals such as accountants, lawyers and financial advisors, along with service workers in fields like hospitality and retail.

It’s worth keeping in mind that these numbers are averages and won’t apply to everybody in a given field. Workers with the skills most in demand generally enjoy the biggest raises (and highest pay) in any field, while low-skill workers are likely to flatline even if the whole industry is rocking.

The biggest surprise is the inclusion of healthcare as an industry with weak raises. Healthcare is widely touted as a “recession-resistant” field, since people still need healthcare during an economic downturn. It’s also a huge growth field, due to the retirement of the baby boomers and other factors. But that may be luring so many people into the field that employers face a glut of workers, especially in lower-paying jobs with limited training requirements, such as aides and technicians. Wherever there are plenty of jobs, there are sure to be more than enough people eager to take them.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.