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Could Wages See a Significant Boost This Year?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Wage increases have remained anemic with the majority of American workers receiving a paltry 2% increase across many sectors and industries.

The high unemployment rate has decreased the pressure to increase wages on average, said Jerry Webman, chief economist for OppenheimerFunds, which has $232 billion in assets under management.

Since labor costs are increasing by 2% across the economy, employees should only expect an average 2% pay increase, he said.

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"It will happen slowly," Webman said. "We're not seeing enough broad strokes in the economy to really accelerate wages across the various sectors."

A shortage of skilled labor in the manufacturing and oil production industries means those employees could demand higher wages, he said.

"A master welder in North Dakota might have a lot more leverage because many people don't have those skills," Webman said.

Wages will increase once business productivity accelerates and one encouraging sign is the current improvement of company revenue, he added.

"I think we are seeing a trend in second quarter earnings with improved sales," Webman said. "This is a better time for companies to invest in new equipment or computer machinery and hire people skilled in those areas. This could create a positive cycle for both businesses and for people looking for work."

While many companies have a "fair" number of job openings, there are still many unemployed people, demonstrating "a gap" in what employers are seeking and the lack of skills many employees have which could be boosted by additional training, he said.

Examining the number of jobs that are created each month is a more accurate indicator of whether the economy is growing compared to watching the unemployment rate, Webman added.

"The ability to create 200,000 jobs a month seems to be what the American economy is capable of doing, he said.

Webman predicts that for the remainder of 2014 employers will continue to add only 200,000 jobs each month.

Small business owners with fewer than 100 employees are responding to the improved economy slowly with 34% of companies who said they gave employees smaller raises in 2013 than in previous years, but only 24% said they plan to do the same this year and only 18% plan to eliminate or delay raises in 2014, according to a study conducted by Aflac, the Columbus, Ga. voluntary insurance provider.

Hiring at smaller companies remains at a slower pace with 45% of them hiring full-time workers in 2013 compared to 71% of mid-sized companies and 60% of large organizations who added full-time employees.

"Employees at a small business might be satisfied with their pay, enjoy their company environment, their colleagues and the work itself, but that doesn't mean better benefits offerings elsewhere won't entice them to leave," said Teresa White, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Aflac Columbus.

The financial services industry is demonstrating strong wage growth and job mobility and is the "first sector" to see it, said John Ricco, a partner in The Atlantic Group, a New York financial services recruiting firm that works with investment banking and accounting companies.

"What's most striking about today's labor market is the divide between Wall Street and Main Street," he said. "While we are seeing 5% to 10% increases and strong job growth within the financial services sector from IT support and accounting to front office positions in sales and trading, we haven't seen evidence of that trend breaking out into the wider economy."

Stagnant wage growth has impacted employees greatly, according to a survey by McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union which said that 60% of employees are more willing to take loans and 44% are willing request hardship withdrawals from retirement savings during past 12 months.

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Nearly 40% of employees are facing more personal finance challenges now compared with the onset of the great recession in 2007, the survey said.

Personal financial challenges are affecting employees while they are on the job with seven out of ten human resources professionals who indicated in the survey that the monetary issues have a large or some impact on their employees' performance.

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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