Your salary probably doesn’t top the list of conversation topics when you’re at lunch with your co-workers. That makes it tough to tell whether you’re ahead of the curve or due for a raise.
If you’re curious about how much your peers are making, one way to compare is by age. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for 20- to 24-year-olds across all education levels in the third quarter of 2016 was $625 a week, or $32,500 a year. For 25- to 34-year-olds, it was $966 a week, or $50,232 a year. The average salary for a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree was $50,219 a year in 2015, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Since your age group includes people with wildly different occupations and educational backgrounds, it’s more useful to compare your salary instead with the average in your industry. Plus, when you keep track of the market rate for your position, you’re more likely to successfully negotiate a higher salary in your next job search.
We sorted through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2015 earnings data and compared mean annual salaries among the agency’s 22 occupation categories in the U.S. To see data more specific to your position and location — a huge factor in how companies develop salary offers — search websites like PayScale or Salary.com. You can also use Glassdoor, where employees self-report their pay at specific companies.
Average salaries by occupation
You can find mean, or average, salaries listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Occupational Employment Statistics survey. The mean annual salary for all occupations in 2015 was $48,320. Pay ranged from $22,850 a year for food preparation occupations to $115,020 a year for management occupations. We list the main job categories below, but you can view earnings for more specific positions in the full report.
The median is generally a more accurate figure to use when comparing salaries, however. Very high and very low salaries can skew the average. For a full picture of where you fall, explore the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ median wage data.
How to make your salary go further
There are ways to pad your bank account beyond negotiating for a higher salary. Use these tips to build up extra spending money, short-term savings and retirement funds.
Refinance your student loans: The average monthly student loan payment for 20- to 30-year olds was $351 in 2015, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. That’s a big chunk out of your paycheck. If your credit score is in the 700s or above and you have solid, full-time income, you might qualify for student loan refinancing. A lender will replace your prior loans with a new one at a lower interest rate, saving you money over time.
Send part of your paycheck straight to a savings account: It’s harder to spend money you never see in your checking account. Ask your payroll administrator at work to direct-deposit a percentage of your after-tax pay in a savings account that isn’t connected to checking — perhaps an online, high-yield savings account. That will keep it out of sight, and you might see your hard-earned money grow faster than if you kept it in an easily accessible place.
Get your employer 401(k) match: You won’t necessarily feel the effects now, but taking advantage of matching contributions at work will give your retirement savings a serious boost. When your company matches your retirement contributions, you’ll get free money in your account up to a specified amount that you contribute — say, 3% of your salary. Don’t miss out.
Updated Jan. 11, 2017.