A new report from Pew Research Center finds that 60% of workers who changed jobs between April 2021 and March of this year reported an increase in their wages, as adjusted for inflation, significantly more than the 51% of job switchers who said they saw wage gains the year before.
It really does pay to change jobs. During the second year of the pandemic, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis, half of workers who changed jobs saw their pay increase nearly 10%. The median worker who stayed put saw an inflation-adjusted loss of almost 2%.
It’s long been thought that changing companies leads to bigger bumps in pay than asking for a raise from the same employer. Now, a new analysis of government data confirms that conventional wisdom—but appears to suggest a growing gap in the fortunes of those who stay put versus those who switch jobs, as high inflation and record turnover rates amid the Great Resignation have shaken up the job market.
Sixty percent of workers who changed jobs between April 2021 and March of this year reported an increase in their wages, as adjusted for inflation, significantly more than the 51% of job switchers who said they saw wage gains the year before, according to a new report released Thursday from Pew Research Center that analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Among workers who stayed with their employers, the share that reported an increase in real wage gains fell from 54% to 47% over the same period.
The difference was stark: During the second year of the pandemic, half of the workers who changed jobs saw their pay increase 9.7%, while the median worker who stayed in the same job experienced a loss of 1.7%.
In addition to Pew’s analysis of government data, it also surveyed 6,174 U.S. adults about their job search plans, which could reveal concerns about a slowing economy. While 22% of workers surveyed shared plans to search for a new gig within six months, a greater share—37%—said they expect finding a job to be difficult.
“That’s the feeling on the ground, which may or may not contradict what we hear about labor shortages,” says Rakesh Kochhar, who led the research on Pew’s analysis. “But it may be some insight into what lies ahead, or what people are thinking lies ahead.”
Kochhar says the difference between the two groups reporting real wage gains during the first year of the pandemic was not statistically significant. He speculated more workers who switched jobs during those early months may have done so involuntarily, which could explain why more of their new jobs didn’t pay more.
But as the Great Resignation took hold, the benefits for job switchers appear to have grown. The findings are another indicator of how the tight labor market has continued to hand workers a bigger payday while employers struggle to hire.
“Across the board, workers are going to their bosses asking for more money,” says Ben Cook, CEO of the job negotiations firm Riva HQ. “But it’s often difficult to get large percentage increases at your current role, so that’s driving workers to seek other opportunities.” Over the past year, those other opportunities were often coming with a 10% or more jump in pay, according to Cook, who says he believes newfound confidence among employees has had the most impact on the increased turnover rate.
The Pew analysis of government data found that 2.5% of workers, on average, quit their jobs each month in the first quarter of 2022, a rate that suggests some 50 million workers could switch jobs this year. Its survey of U.S. adults also found that Black and Hispanic workers, young adults and those without a high school diploma were more likely to change jobs in any given month, as well as that about half of job switchers also change industries or occupations in a typical month.
The report closely follows the Federal Reserve’s announcement of another move to cool inflation, raising interest rates Wednesday by 75 basis points for only the second time since 1994.
The Fed’s aggressiveness, plus uncertainty in Ukraine and other factors, including Thursday’s report that GDP shrank 0.9% in the second quarter, have stoked fears of a recession. Layoffs in tech have accelerated—Shopify shed about 10% of its workforce earlier this week, for example—and venture-capital funding for startups has slowed. But U.S. employers added 11.3 million jobs in May, and that rate, while down from previous months, still exceeds the pre-pandemic norm.
“We’re not seeing a profound, pervasive decline in labor market activity at all — that’s what you’d normally see in a recession,” says Julia Pollak, chief economist at the online employment marketplace ZipRecruiter.
In a survey published in April of 2,064 U.S. adults who had started a new job within the past six months, Pollak’s team at ZipRecruiter found that 69% of new hires who voluntarily left their old jobs ended up with a higher salary under a new employer.
“We can see in the data that this was not a Great Resignation out of the labor force,” she says. “This Great Resignation was really the ‘Great Trading-Up.’”
Whatever the reason for changing jobs, higher pay is often a helpful byproduct. Take Bethlehem, New Hampshire, resident Ashley Willumitis, who a year ago swapped her job as a school admissions director for a program management role at a software company.
“One of my friends actually said to me, ‘if you’re going to be miserable at work, can you at least make some more money?’” recalls Willumitis. The 35-year-old, who earned less than $50,000 in her education job, has more than doubled her paycheck, enabling her partner to step away from work for a break.
After quitting, she met with a career coach and therapist, and first took up a low-stakes marketing job where she practiced shutting off her computer at the end of the work day and letting emails sit more than a few minutes before responding, freeing up more time for activities she loves, like biking.
“You gave your whole self to it and didn’t necessarily make a ton back,” Willumitis says, referring to the way she used to think about work. “It was through having some other people point out my skills to me that I realized I could not only make more money elsewhere, but arguably work a lot less.”