Occupational salary levels for white-collar workers, 1984 Essay

Average salaries increased at the lowest rates in more than 10
years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March 1984
survey of pay for professional, administrative, technical, and clerical
occupations in medium and large firms. Salary levels rose between 3 and
6 percent for most of the 25 occupations compared with the March 1983
survey. In contrast, occupational salary increases averaged about 7
percent yearly during the 1970’s and rose to more than 9 percent in
1981 and 1982. (See table 1.) The annual survey is used in the pay
comparability process for Federal white-collar employees.

Although the survey focuses on individual occupations and work
levels, it also permits a look at salary trends by skill level. In this
connection, occupational work levels were grouped into three broad
categories of skill levels comparable to grades 1 to 4, 5 to 9, and 11
to 15, respectively, of the Federal Government’s General Schedule
(GS). (See table 2 for identification of the survey job classifications
by GS grade.) Cumulative percentage increases over the past 10 years
have been largest for the higher levels (120.1 percent), and 8 to 9
percentage points more than for lower (111.1) and middle groups (112.1).
In 1983-84, pay increases for the highest skill group also set the pace,
averaging 5.3 percent, compared with 5.0 percent for the middle group
and 3.6 percent for the lowest group.

A closer look at some individual job classifications reveals that
the pay differential between many entry-level professionals and their
experienced coworkers widened during the decade, as the latter generally
recorded substantially larger salary increases. The following
tabulation illustrates this point for 3 of 4 professional occupations.
It shows average salaries for journeyman classification (GS-11
equivalents) as a percent of the average paid to their corresponding
entry levels (GS-5). 1974 1984 Accountant 165 180 Auditor 169 190
Chemist 162 174 Engineer 151 149

It is noteworthy, however, that the pay relationship for engineers
was essentially unchanged since 1974 because the strong demand for
engineers had bolstered their starting salaries. This practice becomes
evident when engineering salaries are compared with those of another
technical profession–chemist. In 1984, the average salary for
entry-level engineers was 21 percent higher than that for starting
chemists, while at the journeyman level the difference was 4 percent
(table 2). Ten years earlier, engineers 1 held a 12-percent pay
advantage over chemicsts 1, while the differential was 4 percent at the
journeyman level.

In 1984, the survey’s highest salary average was for top-level (VI) corporate attorneys at $87,568 a year; this was more than four
times the average for most entry-level professional classifications
studied. These extremes reflect the wide range of duties and
responsibilities represented by all professional categories covered by
the survey. In the clerical area, differing functions and skill levels
also produce wide pay variations, although not as wide as for
professionals. For example, annual pay averages for top-level
secretaries (V) ($24,700) and purchasing assistants (III) ($26,916) were
2.5 times the average of clerks ($9,869) doing routine filing. In
contrast, the typical spread among job categories with equivalent levels
of work, for example, accountants I and accounting clerks IV, was
relatively narrow. (See table 2.)

The Bureau recently added two computer science occupations to the
survey–programmers in 1982 and systems analysts in 1984.
Programmer/programmer analyst trainees (level 1) averaged $19,801 a
year; this was approximately half the average of level V workers who
plan and direct large computer programming projects or solve unusually
complex programming problems. Computer systems analysts I averaged
$27,084 a year. This level includes workers who are familiar with
systems analysis procedures and are working independently on routine
problems. Systems analysts V, the highest level for which data could be
presented, averaged $53,917 a year. At this level, analysts work as top
technical specialists on extremely complex systems or are senior
managers responsible for the development and maintenance of large and
complex systems.


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