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Employment rate climbs to new high but wage growth slows

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The employment rate has reached a new high but wage growth slowed in the three months to December 2019, official statistics reveal.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the employment rate reached a record high of 76.5%, with 32.93 million people aged 16 and over in work. This is 336,000 more than a year earlier and an increase of 180,000 on the quarter.

An estimated 1.29 million people were unemployed during October and December 2019, 73,000 fewer than a year earlier and 580,000 fewer than five years ago.

The unemployment rate was 3.8%, 0.1% lower than the previous quarter.

Wage growth

Wage growth had reached 4% for total pay and 3.9% for regular pay between April and June 2019 – the highest nominal pay growth rates since 2008.

But the ONS said that since then, growth has slowed, dropping to 2.9% for total pay (including bonuses) and 3.2% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

This, it said, was due to an unusually high number of bonuses paid in October 2018 with October 2019’s figures at a “more typical level”.

In real terms (after adjusting for inflation), annual growth in total pay is estimated to be 1.4% and annual growth in regular pay is estimated to be 1.8%, unchanged from the previous month.

The ONS said in real terms (constant 2015 prices), regular pay is £474 a week before tax and other deductions which is £1 (0.1%) higher than the pre-economic downturn peak of £473 a week for March 2008.

However, total pay in real terms is still 3.7% (£503 a week) below its February 2008 peak (£522).

Boost your earnings now

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “We lost a dozen years of wage growth to the financial crisis, but we’re finally emerging from the other side – pay is now higher than it was back in March 2008.

“Naturally this isn’t the full picture. It’s easier to score a pay rise if you’re in an industry where wages grow faster – like banking – rather than one where they’re more sluggish – like retail.

“If you’re still not being paid what you’re worth, now could be a good time to see what you can do to boost your earnings.”

She lists the following tips to help get paid more money:

  1. Ask for more

Do your research to see what people in equivalent roles are paid – both in the company and elsewhere – and come armed with this information. Also think about the extra value you’re adding to the business and how you can add more. This could come in handy during negotiations. If you’re refused, ask what you can do in order to secure a raise in future.

  1. Go for promotion

If you’re already paid the going rate for your role, your route to a pay rise may be a promotion. Consider any gaps in your experience or skills you’ll need to fill in order to secure a more senior role

  1. Give yourself a pay rise

Make sure you’re taking advantage of everything on offer – particularly the pension scheme. If your employer agrees to match contributions above the auto-enrolment minimums, then by putting more into your pension, you’ll get more free money from your employer in the form of higher contributions. You should also check whether you can benefit from joining share schemes and opting into flexible or voluntary benefits, which let you swap salary for valuable things like healthcare or technology.

  1. If all else fails, go job hunting

You may find another employer who is prepared to pay you what you’re worth – especially in such a tight jobs market.