Do you ever turn to the person sitting next to you in a meeting and think: “How much is this person really making to be here?”
Even if you don’t mean to be competitive and prefer to focus on your work, it can be tempting for just about anyone to occasionally wonder how they fare against their counterparts — or even people in totally different departments or industries.
Current average salaries in US companies
Before we get into the specifics on how to compare your salary to the national average, here are some high-level numbers to consider. First of all, your baseline comparison is the “national average wage index.”
In 2016, reporting by the Social Security Administration had the national wage index at slightly more than $48,000.
As for specific jobs and industries, the charts below offer an overview of 2016 salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These charts are not exhaustive and both jump over some detailed positions to give a bird’s eye view of various occupations’ average salaries in the U.S.
|Major Group Occupations||Annual Mean Salary||# of Employees|
|Office and Admin Support||$37,260||~22m|
|Food Prep and Serving||$23,850||~13m|
|Transportation and Material Moving||$36,070||~9.7m|
|Education and Training||$54,520||~8.6m|
|Business and Finance Operations||$75,070||~7m|
|Installation, Maintenance, Repair||$46,690||~5.5m|
|Personal Care and Service||$26,510||~4.5m|
|Building and Grounds Maintenance||$28,010||~4m|
|Computers and Math||$87,880||~4m|
|Architecture and Engineering||$84,300||~2.5m|
|Community and Social Services||$47,200||~2m|
|Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Media||$58,390||~2m|
|Life, Physical, and Social Science||$72,930||~1m|
|Farming, Fishing, and Forestry||$27,810||~450,000|
|Occupation||Annual Mean Salary||# of Employees|
|Computer and Info Systems Managers||$145,740||~350,000|
|Architectural and Engineering Managers||$143,870||~200,000|
|Personal Financial Advisors||$123,100||~200,000|
|General and Operations Managers||$122,090||~2.2m|
|Human Resources Managers||$120,210||~100,000|
|Electrical and Electronics Engineers||$100,770||~300,000|
How to do your own salary research
The government data above gives you a nice general picture, but if you want to drill down to see salaries for your specific situation, there are ways to do that, too. After all, many factors impact your salary that can’t be accounted for in national numbers, such as:
- The cost of living in your city or town
- Your years of experience
- The type of employer (private sector, government, non-profit, etc.)
Variables like these can make it somewhat difficult to pin down exactly what a fair salary might be, but you can at least get a picture of what range your salary should be in.
One easy way to see where you stand is to go to Payscale and take the “What am I worth?” survey. This questionnaire will deliver a detailed report on your salary compared to the national average. It will even recommend courses you can take to increase your pay, list related skills that affect your salary, suggest future jobs your current role can lead to, and provide job openings that relate to what you do right now.
And if you find that your salary isn’t up to par, here are a few things you can try to carve a more fruitful path:
- Compare your role to others that utilize the same skillset but in different jobs or industries — you might find simply switching one of these factors could lead to a higher pay trajectory without drastically changing your daily work.
- Research courses or certifications you can take to help you qualify for a promotion, but be sure that any costs will be outweighed by your future pay before you sign up (and check to see if your company offers reimbursement for such studies).
- Ask your direct manager what kind of education, skills, or responsibilities you can take on to improve your outlook — this is a good way to get specific information from the person who understands the needs of your company and industry overall.
- Learn the art of salary negotiation for raises at your current job and future offers down the road so that you can discuss your compensation with confidence and a strategy.
How to make the most out of your salary
No matter how much money you earn or could earn in the future, the key to maximizing your salary is to make the most of it at every step of the way, rather than waiting for the next bonus or raise to do so.
Here are a few things you can do right now to make the most of your salary:
- Contribute to your 401(k) if your company offers it — and if they match, contribute up to that amount. (If you don’t, you’re leaving free money on the table.)
- Consider signing up for an IRA if your company doesn’t offer retirement benefits — thanks to compound interest, you can end up with more for retirement by saving what you can early on rather than saving double that amount 10 years later.
- Look into refinancing your student loans at a lower rate, so that more of your payment goes to the balance rather than interest. But consider it carefully before you act, since this means converting federal student loans to private and thus losing out on benefits such as income-driven repayment plans.
- If you get paid biweekly, make biweekly payments on any debt you owe. Paying half the monthly amount due every other week will cause you to make one extra payment per year, which can get you out of debt faster without sending your budget into a tailspin.
- Automate your savings, either through direct deposits from your paycheck to a savings account or through a financial app to help you save. Ensuring that some money gets stashed away before it hits your checking account helps you avoid the temptation to spend it all, and it can even help you get started with investing.
- Utilize all the benefits your company offers. That means going on annual doctor and dentist check-ups if your company gives you insurance, using flexible health savings accounts for copays, taking advantage of gym memberships, and more. There’s no better way to “treat yo’ self” than maintaining good health.
Talking about salaries doesn’t have to be painful or awkward
Your salary might just be a number, but it’s one packed with emotions. We tend to view our salaries as a reflection of our self-worth — and the way employers value us. But, in the end, it really is just a number.
Sometimes our employers want to pay us more but can’t feasibly do so. And sometimes we just don’t do ourselves justice when it comes time to negotiate a great salary. Either way, don’t let how you compare to average U.S. salaries tell you what you’re worth.
Your career should be about your livelihood but also your fulfillment. Keep building the skills that enable you to shine and adding responsibilities that make you an asset. And when it comes time to talk money, arm yourself with the knowledge of how you’ve contributed, how you can contribute moving forward, and what your role is worth in the market.
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