Survey Finds Workers Frequently Compare Salaries and Feel Underpaid

Julija A. Image
ByJulija A.
August 28, 2019

US workers say they are tired of being underpaid.

According to a 2019 study from staffing firm Robert Half, 82% of American workers feel they are well-informed about what they should be making in their current jobs, and 73% say they have checked their salary against market rates within the last year. More than half (54%) have compared their salaries with co-workers.

Now that more workers are now doing research about what standard salaries in their field are, 47% of them say they feel underpaid.

Robert Half surveyed 1,000 American workers plus 2,800 more in 28 specific US markets. The research was published with the Robert Half 2020 Salary Guides, which provide salary-level ranges for more than 470 positions in fields such as finance, tech, accounting, legal, and administrative support.

"Workers have more access to information about their salaries, roles, and career options than ever before, arming them for conversations with current and potential employers," said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. "Managers must remain equally knowledgeable, regularly evaluating salaries to ensure they're paying at or above market rates to recruit and retain highly skilled talent in today's competitive hiring market."

He added, "In a stronger economy, top performers have options, but they're more likely to stay put if they feel they're getting paid fairly. Employees know their worth, so don't risk losing key players because you're not showing them they're valued at your company."

Here are some key findings from the study:

  • 82% of workers report feeling well-informed about how big their salaries should be, though men (87%) seem better informed than women (76%). Men (80%) were also more likely to check their compensations against markets rate in the last year than women (65%).
  • Fifty percent of women believe they are underpaid, compared to 41% of men. Professionals in Portland (52%), Raleigh (53%), and Cleveland (56%) had the highest number of workers who feel they are underpaid.
  • Fifty-seven percent of employees believe a stronger economy has boosted their earnings. Of those who don’t believe a stronger economy had a role, 34% say that their companies have offered only small pay bumps, and 31% believe they’d have to leave their jobs to see a noteworthy pay increase.
  • Sixty-seven percent of workers aged 18 to 34 report discussing their salaries with colleagues. Compared to that, 54% of workers aged 45 to 54 and 38% of those aged 55 and older report discussing their salaries. When it comes to gender, 61% of men and 49% of women report talking about compensation at work. New York (63%), Los Angeles (68%), and Miami (71%) have the highest number of professionals who say they discuss their salaries with co-workers.
  • Most people (61%) who discussed their salaries did nothing with that information, but 28% report that the discussions prompted them to ask for raises and 17% used the information when evaluating new job offers. More than 45% of workers aged 18 to 34 used the information they learned about a colleague’s salary to their benefit, compared to 65% of those aged 35 to 54 and 88% of those aged 55 and over. Workers in Los Angeles (68%) and Miami (73%) had the highest number of people who used this information to ask for a raise or negotiate a new job offer.
You can use this Robert Half salary calculator to find starting salary ranges for hundreds of positions in American job markets.
About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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