Wages Trend Up to Finish 2011 Ahead

Rising Wages Signal Shift in Q4 2011

By Bridget Quigg, PayScale.com

PayScale released its results for The PayScale Index for Q4 of 2011 and you may be surprised to find out where workers’ wages went in 2011. They are up across the board for the first time in a long time. While certain skills sets were in higher demand and some cities stayed in a slump, in general, earnings grew somewhat for the majority of workers by year-end 2011.

The PayScale Index measures the change in wages for private, full-time workers in 20 metropolitan areas, 15 industries, 19 job categories and three company sizes. The analysis goes back to 2006, marking the rapid earnings growth typical before and during 2008, followed by significant losses in 2009, a flat line in 2010 and now, finally, some broad increases in late 2011.

“For the first time since 2008, wage increases are being seen across the board and not just for workers in high-tech and energy industries. Granted, these increases are small compared to those seen pre-2008, but they are a sign that the economy is on the right track,” said Katie Bardaro, director of analytics at PayScale.

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The Wage Winners of 2011


Which metros came out ahead for year-over-year wage growth? Employers in the following five cities should be aware that pay for their top talent may have grown.

1. Houston
2. Miami
3. Chicago
4. Washington, DC
5. Seattle

Want to know the bottom five cities? See our city rankings for The PayScale Index.


If you are setting pay for employees in any of these industries, it may be time for a fresh round of benchmarking and planned increases.

1. Mining, Oil & Gas Exploration
2. Utilities
3. Information, Media & Telecommunications
4. Arts, Entertainment & Recreation
5. Professional, Scientific & Tech Services

Are you curious how your industry’s wage trends compare? See our industry rankings for The PayScale Index.

Job Categories

Workers with skill sets in these areas have seen their wages grow faster than most.

1. Transportation
2. Science & Biotech
3. Social Services
4. Information Technology
5. Architecture & Engineering

Want to know whether your employees with certain skills might be due for a raise? See our job category rankings for The PayScale Index.

Q4 2011 Highlights from The PayScale Index

Similar Q3 2011, jobs related to energy or technology, particularly highly-skilled ones, continue to be the real wage winners over the last 12 months.

Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC are major tech hubs and saw good wage growth over the last year.

Unlike previous quarters of The PayScale Index, Q4 2011 had no real wage losers other than Riverside, Calif. Riverside suffered a tremendous wage depression when the housing bubble burst and has not been able to recover.

For the first time since Q3 2009, construction workers experienced positive annual trends in pay – a growth of 0.4 percent over the previous year.

Food service and restaurant workers are still earning pay below their 2006 levels.

Retail workers (dominated by retail salespeople, cashiers, and similar roles) have wages that are only 2 percent higher than their 2006 levels. By comparison, engineering wages have grown over 7 percent in the same time period.

Wages for manufacturing jobs also experienced their largest quarterly growth this past quarter, rising over 1.5 percent from Q3 to Q4 of 2011.

For more detail on The PayScale Index, see the methodology.

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