Wages Are Finally Set to Rise in 2019

If you’re not switching jobs, smart negotiating could help you get ahead of the trend.

(Image credit: Todd Winters)

Andrew M. Challenger is a vice president of the outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in Chicago. We spoke with him about the low unemployment rate, the outlook for pay, and strategies to get a raise.

The unemployment rate is the lowest in nearly five decades, but wages have stagnated. Why? We’ve seen some very small upward movements in wages, but it seems as if companies have yet to hit the point at which they really struggle to attract and retain good people. One reason: The availability of jobs has attracted workers from the sidelines who left or retired from the workforce during the Great Recession or who have worked gig jobs, such as driving for Uber, to get by. Meanwhile, more of workers’ total compensation goes to benefits—much of it to health care—which doesn’t materially change the lives of employees for the better. It’s an indictment of the health care system, which may be keeping wages artificially low.

What’s the outlook for pay? With the caveat that we’ve said this for two years, everything leads us to believe that wages will begin rising by year-end and more quickly than they have over the past eight years. Amazon’s minimum wage increase to $15 an hour is a bold move that will escalate the fourth-quarter war for new talent.

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What strategies can I use to get a raise? Most raises now go to people who switch companies. Having an offer is a great negotiating tool, because you can show that someone else is willing to pay you more. Use websites such as Glassdoor.com (opens in new tab) or Salary.com (opens in new tab), where people at various companies share salaries for their positions. With that information, you can go to your boss and say, “The market is paying 5% more than you’re paying me now.” A longer-term strategy is to ask your boss to provide milestones or specific achievements you need to meet or surpass to be considered for a promotion or raise. When it’s time for your next review, you can say, “I hit these goals, and I really do deserve a raise now.”

If I can’t get a pay increase, can I negotiate benefits? Absolutely. Base salary is highly controlled in most companies, but managers have much more autonomy over such benefits as added vacation days, flexible work days and telework.

Do ultimatums work? If you draw a line in the sand and say, “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll leave,” you must be 100% willing to go. Otherwise, you could end up stuck.

Patricia Mertz Esswein
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Esswein joined Kiplinger in May 1984 as director of special publications and managing editor of Kiplinger Books. In 2004, she began covering real estate for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, writing about the housing market, buying and selling a home, getting a mortgage, and home improvement. Prior to joining Kiplinger, Esswein wrote and edited for Empire Sports, a monthly magazine covering sports and recreation in upstate New York. She holds a BA degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minn., and an MA in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University.