Probably not, if you have been with the same employer for a long time – 10, 15, 20 years or more – and have not gotten any promotion, or monetary reward, or bonus for your work performance, productivity, or contribution. The only increase in your salary is the union-negotiated, or employer granted periodic increases. Such increases usually fail to keep up with the rising rate of inflation.
Among employees belonging to a union, those in the public sector generally fare much better than their counterparts in the private sector. It’s well documented that a much higher proportion of public sector employees is unionized.
This question if one is better off while working too long with the same employer seeped into my mind while I was writing my second book entitled “A Writer’s Journey Through the Bureaucratic Maze: A True Account (to be out by late May or early June this year). There, in Appendix II, I used the actual salary amounts and number of years spent without any promotion, or rewards, and found out that I, in fact, was losing each year the purchasing power of the salary at hand. In this post, I want to share that example with you, along with some of its implications.
Illustrative example (based on factual data):
I started working at one of the Canadian federal departments in 1970. My starting salary was close to $11,000. By 1978, the salary moved to $32,000. And by the time I retired in March 2012, I was making close to $93,000. The corresponding ‘all items’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) with (2002=100) for 1970, 1978, and 2012 are 20.3, 36.6, and 121.7 respectively.
Let us now look at the components of change in salary between 1970 and 1978 and between 1978 and 2012 – the change due to rising inflation only, and the real change due to promotion/advancement.
The difference in 1978 and 1970 salary: $32,000 – $11,000 = $21,000
Increase in 1978 salary due to the change in CPIs (or inflation alone) = $11,000 x (36.6/20.3) = $19,833
Now the difference of $21,000 can be re-expressed in terms of two components: $21,000 = ($32,000 – $19,833) + ($19,833 – $11,000)
= $12,167 (real change due to promotions) + $8,833 (change due to inflation)
100% = 58% + 42%
So between 1970 and 1978, 58% of the change in my salary was due to promotions and the other 42% to strictly inflation.
Following the same steps, the change in salary between 1978 and 2012 was: ($93,000 – $32,000) = ($93,000 – $106,403) + ($106,403 – $32,000)
where $106,403 is simply the increase in 1978 salary due to inflation (= $32,000 x (121.7/36.6)).
This shows that by the time I retired in 2012, I was making even lesser than the inflation-adjusted 1978 salary – never mind making any real gain due to any promotion (which I didn’t get).
So between 1978 and March 2012 (399 months), I was short of $13,403 in order to simply keep up with the inflation.
Put it another way, I lost about $34 (=$13,403/399) a month, or $408 ($34 x 12) a year in the purchasing power of salary at hand. In the eyes of the world, I was working full-year full-time, but with each passing day/year, I was losing the purchasing power of money. Isn’t it ironic?
That’s why I mentioned at the outset that working too long with the same employer isn’t economically healthy for workers with stagnant, or periodic union-negotiated increases in salary.
Employees working with the same employer over a long period, with no promotion or advancement, but simply periodic union-negotiated increases in wages and salaries are likely to be losers as they would be losing the purchasing power of their salary at hand. One can say one is fully employed and getting a salary, when in fact, the rising inflation over time would steadily keep chipping away one’s purchasing power. Employees have to make up this loss by looking at other sources of income including moonlighting, use of personal savings, and/or debt.
For paid workers, the only way they can beat the inflationary changes and protect their purchasing power is to keep on making career advances and make real gains in wages and salary. But there eventually comes a point when such workers either come to the end of their road as they lack any further opportunity, skills, connections, personal marketability, etc. From that point on, they are on the way to lose the purchasing power of their salary at hand.
Business people and those self-employed on own account, on the other hand, can always beat inflation by steadily rising prices of goods and services they sell. This group would lose its purchasing power only when their business isn’t doing well, or they have slowed down on account of their poor health, or other volatility in the market. Other than that, self-employed persons pave their own paths to prosperity. They are not limited like their paid counterparts – always vulnerable to the personal biases and whims of their employers.
What does the future hold?
First, on the rising rate of inflation.
In Canada, the rate of inflation (measured in terms of the change in ‘all items’, or’core items’ (as used by the Bank of Canada) CPI was rampant in the seventies and eighties. For example, all of the goods and services that cost me $1.00 in 1970 were costing me $2.17 in 1980, $3.86 in 1990, $4.70 in 2000, $5.74 in 2010, $6.00 in 2012, and $6.33 in 2016. So during my work life (1970 – 2012), I witnessed the cost of living move up six times, and 6.33 times by 2016. The percentage decomposition of the change in ‘all items’ CPIs showed that 42% of the total change occurred in the 1970-80 decade, followed by 31% in the 1980-90, 11% each in the next two decades (see charts).
The Canadian rate of inflation has been hovering around 2% a year since 1992 (with the exception of the year 2002-03 with a rate of 2.8%, and 2010-11 with the highest rate of 2.9%). With the rate of inflation low and stabilized, employees with long job tenure and stagnant wages and salaries would be losing their purchasing power steadily, but at a much slower pace.
Second, on the rising number of employees with long tenure.
It’s well-known that Canada’s population is aging, living longer, and among those working, a good proportion is opting to work longer. Since the job or occupational mobility decreases with age, it’s likely that those working longer would be extending their employment with the same employer. According to Statistics Canada, 23.8% of all 9.7 million employees in 1976 had worked for the same employer for more than ten years; four decades later, in 2016, their proportion had risen to 31.4% of the total of 18.1 million. The proportion of those working more than twenty years with the same employer had risen from 10.2% to 12.6% (see chart).
Of the additional 8.3 million employees between 1976 and 2016, 40.3% were working for ten years or more for the same employer. Evidently, more and more employees are staying put either because of the rapidly changing economy, technology squeezing some old and traditional jobs out and opening, in turn, some new and challenging ones, widening the gulf between those with and without proper marketable skills.
All these changes are likely creating, in turn, a phobia among employees to change employers. They must be living with the premise that a job at hand is better with the current employer than running a risk of losing it with a new employer. For them, the grass on the other side of the fence may not be all that greener after all.
Your suggestions/comments on this or any existing post are always welcome.
Employee, job tenure, CPI, rate of inflation, income, salary, wages, savings, debt, purchasing power, decomposition of change.