7 Industries With Plummeting Salaries

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industries with plummeting incomesMiddle class wages, over all, have been pretty stagnant for over a decade. But not everyone's wages have stagnated. In fact, some people have seen their salaries rise at a rosy clip, while many others have actually become poorer.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has tracked average full-time income by industry since 1998, with the latest numbers from 2011. While the average income across industries (which includes employer-provided benefits) has increased by $5,700 in that period, workers in certain occupations have seen their pocketbooks shrink. Here are the seven industries that have seen their real incomes plummet the most (all dollar amounts are in 2011 dollars):

7. Lumber/Wood

Income in wood manufacturing has actually increased substantially over the 13-year time period. But those spoils have not been evenly shared. While computer-makers have seen their real incomes rise by $24,000 between 1998 and 2011, makers of wood products, like lumber, plywood, wood flooring, cabinets, and manufactured homes, have seen an average raise of just $12.50, from $39,201 in 1998 to $39,214 today.

Income (1998-2011): Up just $12.50.

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Why stagnant wages: Wood product manufacturing is closely tied to the construction industry, which is closely tied to how much money people have to build and renovate homes. Since the economy has been fairly weak since the early 2000s, and the housing bubble exploded into a bloody chasm in 2007, it makes sense that the wood makers of America didn't get rich in the last decade.

6. Movies and Music

Workers in the motion picture and sound recording industry are the highest-earners on this list, with an annual income of $74,201 in 2011. It's also an industry with a particularly large range of salaries, points out Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "I'm sure a lot of those jobs are not fancy Hollywood jobs," she said. "The camera crews, that's a lot of people."

Income drop (1998-2011): Down $26

Why stagnant wages: Predictably, wages dropped in the recession, but they also hit their highest on record in 2010, Average incomes in the industry jump around. One actress lands a $20 million job, or a blockbuster shoots the moon, and the whole thing seems to swing out of whack.

5. Retail

Retail workers don't make much anyway. In 1998, their average income in 2011 dollars was $33,913, but that factors in all the higher-earning managers.

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Income drop (1998-2011): $1,311. "Other retail" (a separate category) saw an income drop of $950.

Why stagnant wages: According to Shierholz, this is because low-wage worker salaries are closely tied to the unemployment rate. "A low unemployment rate brings a lot more bargaining power to low-wage workers," Shierholz explains, and while the late '90s saw very low unemployment, the job market since then has been "weak, weak, weak, weak."

4. Food and Beverage

Food and beverage store workers are another low-wage category that's been squeezed in the last decade, with average income dropping from $28,152 in 1998 to $26,968 in 2011.

Income drop (1998-2011): $1,184

Why stagnant wages: "The economic growth at the time [the 2000s] has been funneled to a very small group of people," says Shierholz. "Most workers have seen flat wages." And low-wage workers, it seems, have seen worse than flat.

3. Car makers

Car manufacturers are still fairly well compensated, with an average income of $60,017 in 2011, but that's a solid slice less than what they were making in 1998.

Income drop (1998-2011): $2,757

Why stagnant wages: Car maker income began its slide in 2005, when analysts began commenting on the decline of the "Big Three" automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- due to foreign competition and bad business decisions. And in 2008, with the auto industry teetering towards bankruptcy, income saw its biggest drop.

2. Car Dealers

Dealers in cars and car parts have seen their average income wither from $54,595 a year in 1998 to $51,238 a year in 2011. A lot of that decline came between 1999 and 2001, when the country experienced a recession, and then again between 2007 and 2008.

Income drop (1998-2011): $3,357

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Why stagnant wages: "Sales really track the economy, because when the economy's not doing well, people put off buying cars," explains David Kiley, editor-in-chief of AOL Autos. "... Car dealer salaries are heavily influenced by commission, so when the industry was faltering you had those declines."

In fact, at the lowest point -- 2009 -- car dealers were taking home $5,317 less a year than they were in 1998. But things are on the upswing. "Luxury has been really strong, and the Big Three," says Kiley. "Not only are the wages, but the jobs. It's a good job market in auto retail."

1. Printing

Printing and related support activities, another manufacturing category, have seen the starkest drop in real income since 1998. Income reached a peak of $51,129 in 2000, but has been declining since then, falling to $46,481 in 2011.

Income drop (1998-2011): $3,911

Why stagnant wages: Not only was the printing industry particularly blindsided by the recession, says Ron Davis, chief economist and vice president of Printing Industries of America, but the rise of web has led to a major drop in the printing of newspapers, magazines, and books. "It's restructuring and refocusing," says Davis. "The traditional part of the industry isn't going away, but it's declined."


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