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More workers feeling underpaid, survey finds

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Chicago Tribune / July 18, 2006

CHICAGO -- The average worker hasn't seen a meaningful pay increase in three years, despite the economy's rebound, according to US Labor Department data.

That may explain the findings of a national survey released yesterday reporting a sharp jump in the number of employees who feel underpaid.

Nearly 40 percent of employees think their companies pay less-than-market-rate salaries compared with 28 percent last year, according to an annual survey of workplace attitudes by staffing agency Randstad USA with Harris Interactive Inc.

Yet a growing number of employers -- 50 percent this year compared with 42 percent in 2005 -- said they believed their salaries are competitive with the market rates, the survey found.

The growing disconnect between workers and bosses occurred at the same time as fewer employees reported being satisfied with their workloads and hours.

That pressure contributes to feeling underpaid, said Eric Buntin, Randstad USA managing director of marketing and operations.

``Employers pretty much think their salaries are competitive in the marketplace, and they may be," he said. ``But pay may not be keeping up with the increasing costs we've been experiencing, especially in the last six months with dramatically higher gas prices.

``The productivity gains employers and employees agree are so important may not be translating into [higher] wages," he added.

Real wages for most private sector employees peaked in mid-2003, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys.

Declines in real pay have moderated in recent months as the job market has tightened. But the average worker's hourly pay in May was $16.62, down 1.7 percent from the inflation-adjusted rate of $16.90 per hour in June 2003, according to BLS data.

Randstad's survey found pay increases grow in importance the older the worker gets.

Generation Y, defined by Randstad as born between 1980 and 1987, is the least interested in pay increases. Learning new skills is most important to them. Thirty-one percent ranked learning new skills as ``extremely" or ``very" important, compared with 27 percent who said pay raises were paramount.

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