Fewer workers than in previous years are seeing higher pay, spelling trouble for Americans’ purchasing power as inflation soars, a survey from Bankrate finds.

More than half (56 percent) of Americans who are working either a full- or part-time job say they haven’t received a raise or found a better-paying job over the past 12 months, according to Bankrate’s Pay Raise survey. That’s up from 50 percent in 2019, the last survey period, yet down from 62 percent in 2018. Both years were instances when inflation was tepid and joblessness was at half-century lows.

Another more than half (52 percent) of Americans say they’re earning about the same pay today as they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers’ pay is stagnating at a time when price pressures are at their highest in decades among the items in most Americans’ household budgets — from vehicles and gasoline, to housing, utilities, groceries and clothing. Employers are also saying they’re finding it difficult to hire qualified workers, showing a record 10.4 million job openings in August.

“Workers with unique skills, talent or certifications that can demonstrate the value they add are those best positioned to command a premium in today’s competitive labor market,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst.

Key takeaways:

Nearly 44 percent of workers received a pay raise or promotion this year

Of the workers who did see higher pay over the past 12 months, 24 percent say they got a pay raise, while 16 percent found a better-paying job. Another 4 percent said they received both.

Taken together, 28 percent of full- or part-time workers received a pay bump, down from the 38 percent reported in the 2019 survey. Meanwhile, 19 percent found a higher-paying position, compared with 22 percent in 2019.

College-educated workers and higher earners dominate those receiving pay raises

Of those most likely to see a pay raise, 32 percent of both Generation Xers and baby boomers received one, the most likely of any generation, Bankrate’s poll found. That compares with 27 percent of millennials who saw higher pay over the past 12 months.

The more money workers made, the more likely they were also to see a pay increase in the past 12 months, with 39 percent of those earning more than $75,000 a year seeing a raise, compared with 29 percent of those who earned $50,000 to $74,999 and 25 percent of those who earned $30,000 to $49,999.

Just 9 percent of those who made under $30,000 annually got a pay raise.

Within demographic groups, Hispanic workers were least likely to see a raise, with 19 percent getting higher pay, compared to 30 percent of White workers and 31 percent of Black workers.

Workers with a college education had a significantly increased chance of getting a pay raise in the past year, with 38 percent of the group seeing an increase, compared with 22 percent of those with some college and 20 percent of those with high school diplomas or less.

When it comes to those who fled to better-paying jobs, middle-income earners led the charge, with 25 percent of workers who earned $30,000 to $49,999 a year and 29 percent of those who made $50,000 to $74,999 a year moving to a higher-paying position. That compares with 13 percent of those who earned $75,000 or higher reportedly making the switch.

Workers this past year were more likely to receive performance-based raises

More than half of workers say they make the same today compared with pre-pandemic

Performance-based pay increases continued to be the most common reason for workers seeing higher pay, with 36 percent of those who got a pay raise in the past 12 months listing it as the reason for their pay bump.

At the same time, cost-of-living adjustments didn’t trail far behind, at 31 percent, which was the highest since polling began. Just 26 percent of Americans back in 2019 reported getting a raise to accommodate for rising living costs.

That’s a boon for Americans’ wallets, considering they’re running out of places to hide from higher inflation. A separate Bankrate poll from August found that 89 percent of Americans said they’ve had to pay higher prices this year, and 66 percent said it negatively impacted their wallets.

“With inflation on the rise and many employers competing to attract or retain employees, more workers reported getting a cost-of-living increase than seen in prior years,” McBride says. “Although performance-based increases are the most common, the gap has narrowed.”

Another 29 percent said they saw higher pay thanks to a promotion or new job responsibilities.

Millennials were more likely to receive a pay bump related to a promotion or new job responsibilities than any other age group, at 38 percent, and that reasoning also trumped performance-based raises (27 percent) or cost-of-living adjustments (33 percent).

More than half of those with a high school education or less who got a raise (51 percent) earned it for a solid performance, the most common reason among individuals with that level of educational attainment. Meanwhile, 33 percent of those with some college earned a cost-of-living adjustment and 34 percent of those with college degrees found a promotion or new job responsibilities, the most common reasons for increased pay among these demographic groups.

Although more than half (52 percent) of Americans say they’re earning the same amount of money as before the pandemic, Bankrate’s poll still found some bright spots when it comes to workers’ pay.

Thirty-six percent of workers with a full- or part-time job say they’re earning more income compared to before the pandemic. That’s three times higher than those who say they’re earning less, at 12 percent.

Workers earning more than before the pandemic exceeded those earning less in every income category, employment status, region and age group below 65. Women were slightly more likely than men to say they were earning higher pay, at 37 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Women’s pay was also nearly four times more likely to be higher than it was before the pandemic, with just 10 percent reporting that they’re earning less.

Meanwhile, college-educated workers were more than five times as likely to earn more than less since the pandemic started (48 percent and 9 percent, respectively).

At the same time, 40 percent of full-time workers say they’re earning more today than before the pandemic, compared with 9 percent who reported earning less.

What labor market upheaval means for you

The coronavirus pandemic dramatically shook up the labor market. Even amid a grand reopening of the U.S. economy, employers are still feeling the effects.

Nearly 5 million positions are still missing from the labor market compared to before the pandemic, unemployment is elevated and almost 3 million workers are still missing from the job market. Yet, experts attribute that hole to labor supply issues, rather than minimal demand for new workers, which, you might have more leverage than you think to negotiate for higher pay — or find a position somewhere else.

Workers with unique skills, talent or certifications that can demonstrate the value they add are those best positioned to command a premium in today’s competitive labor market.

— Greg McBride,CFABankrate chief financial analyst

If you’re hoping to secure higher pay, try these tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to apply for a new job: Data from the Department of Labor and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta show that wage growth was higher for job switchers than for those who stayed in their current positions, up 5.4 percent for job changers and 3.4 percent for those who stuck with their employers. Apply early, often and make sure your application is free from mistakes.
  • Don’t shy away from negotiating: Firms often expect it, and you could leave money on the table if you don’t try. Think of clear ways you can demonstrate your value and worth to your company, and ask your manager for more frequent reviews.
  • Learn a new skill: Having an ability that others don’t can set you apart from other applicants and even other workers who are vying for a promotion. Think about what skills would immediately bring value to your individual position, and consider utilizing something as simple as a free online learning platform to learn more.


This study was conducted for Bankrate via telephone by SSRS on its Omnibus survey platform. The SSRS Omnibus is a national, weekly, dual-frame bilingual telephone survey. Interviews were conducted Sept. 28-Oct. 3, 2021, among a sample of 1,008 respondents in English (973) and Spanish (35). Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (203) and cellphone (805, including 519 without a landline phone). The margin of error for total respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. All SSRS Omnibus data are weighted to represent the target population.