The latest results from the engineering world’s largest salary survey demonstrate a troublesome reality: The profession is still a good way to make a living, but in several notable areas, such as salary parity for women and minority groups, there’s a long way to go.
According to IEEE-USA’s 2014 Salary & Benefits Survey, conducted in May 2014 among U.S. IEEE members, engineering salaries rose only nominally last year. For members working full time in their primary area of technical competency (PATC), the total median pre-tax income – before deducting such earnings as overtime pay and profit sharing – was $124,260 – only $260 more than the previous year. Adjusted for inflation, real income was $122,466 – a welcome increase of $1,613 over 2012 in real dollars. (The survey reflects respondents’ employment and income status as of January 1, 2014 – or more exactly, in 2013.)
While other engineering salary reports are available, IEEE-USA’s salary survey is respected not only for its longevity – the first such study was conducted in 1972 – but also because it draws the most responses. Since 2001, when the survey was first conducted on the Internet, member participation has grown substantially. In 2014, a total of 13,721 took part, including 11,049 employed fulltime in their primary areas of technical competence – the most relevant group from both employer and employee perspectives. Practically all (93.2%) the respondents are currently working, almost all of them (97%) full time. Out of the 6.8% not employed, 41.2% were unemployed involuntarily, and assumed to be looking for jobs.
The study is comprehensive, studying differences in respondents’ income, technology sector, level of responsibility, age, education, gender, ethnic background, geographic location and much more. It also includes specific questions for academic employees. Members who indicated half or more of their personal earned income in 2013 came from fee-based consulting are included in a separate study; the report for the IEEE-USA 2014 Consultants Fee Survey is available at https://www.ieeeusa.org/communications/ebooks/
According to the executive summary of the 2014 IEEE-USA Salary and Benefits Survey, the typical respondent remains – as with last year’s report – a male in his mid- 40s with an advanced degree, and about 20 years of professional experience. He is at the fifth or sixth of nine possible levels of professional responsibility, supervising a few other people, both professionals and support staff.
2014 Major Results
Communications Technology – the PATC comprising broadcast technology, communications, consumer electronics and vehicular technology – continues to yield the highest median earnings ($140,000). Two PATCs – Circuits & Devices and Signals & Applications – report the next highest median earnings, tied at $135,000 in each. Continuing the trend in several previous years, Energy & Power Engineering remains the lowest of PATC median incomes: at $112,000.
The employment sector in which an engineer works is significant in determining median income; those working in defense-related, private industry earned the top median income ($140,383); followed by private industry, excluding defense or utilities ($130,500). Utilities employed those earning the least, on average (at $112,000), and also state/local governments and educational institutions (each $100,000).
In a trend going back to 2009, most members work for large organizations; 26.5% are employed by establishments with more than 10,000 employees in the United States, and another 38.5% work for organizations with 501 to 10,000 employees. Private, non-defense companies employ more than half (53%) of members in the U.S. workforce. When defense-related firms are added, the private industry share rises to 63.3%.
A job in management still brings the highest median primary income – a salary advantage of just under $40,000 for those in general management, compared to the median for all respondents.
Troubling Gaps Continue
Comprising only 8.5% of all respondents working full time in their PATCs, women continue to trail men in primary income – even when experience is a factor. A woman’s median salary of $109,255 lags well behind that of $125,760 for men, for a gap of $16,500 among those working full time in their PATC. While this gap is $500 less than last year, the salary disparity starts among those with less than three years of experience ($114,000 for men and $100,000 for women). Only at 35-39 years of experience do women’s salaries ($143,000) outpace men’s median salaries by a slight $641.
The salary gap also continued in 2013 between Caucasians and African-Americans. Overall, Caucasians earned $17,750 more than African Americans’ median primary salary of $107,250. Hispanics reported median incomes of $110,000 – a $15,000 gap that represents a two-third increase in the disparity pointed out in the 2013 survey ($9,000). The report notes the profession continues to slowly grow more diverse racially and ethnically: 77.3% of respondents in the latest report are white, non-Hispanics – 15 points lower than in the inaugural 1972 survey.
Members in Higher Education
Because the nature of academic employment differs significantly from industry and other types of organizations, specific survey questions help to profile this small but important group of U.S. members. In the latest report, 11.3% indicated a degree-granting institution was their primary employer. Overall, the median academic salary for 2014 is $101,000 for those working in their PATC – but this figure reflects variables – including academic rank, tenure status, highest degree received, type of contract, and whether the employing institution is public or private. For example, the survey shows full professors have a median income of $148,000; associate professors’ median income is $102,072; and assistant professors, $85,000. Tenured academics earn a median salary of $126,000 compared to the $85,000 median salary of those not tenured, or not on tenure tracks.
As in other organizations, more experience and greater responsibility tend to lead to higher median salaries: for distinguished professors and academic department heads, it’s $155,000; for academic department heads, $171,550; for deans, $200,000.
In 2014, geography continues to significantly affect an engineer’s earnings. The study reports median incomes not only according to the six U.S. IEEE regions, but also for the nine Census Bureau divisions. Both tell a similar story. Members in the West (Region 6) fare substantially better than those in Region 4 (Central) or Region 3 (Southeast) with gaps of more than $30,000 in median primary income. (The report notes that living costs are higher in the West than elsewhere in the United States.)
The top ten states for 2013 median income are: California, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas (each $125,000 or more). The bottom ten states are: South Carolina, Arkansas, Ohio, South Dakota, Indiana, Nebraska, Hawaii, Montana, Maine and North Dakota (each $102,600 or less.)
Because of the high levels of participation of members working fulltime in their PATCs, the report includes “meaningfully calculated” statistics for compensation in 83 metropolitan areas. Using median primary income as the measure, the best-paying U.S. cities include many in California, as well as Monmouth-Ocean County, New Jersey; Metropolitan Washington, D.C.; Trenton, New Jersey; Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Nashua, New Hampshire. All report medians of $135,000 or more. Cities where compensation is lowest include Cincinnati; Nashville; San Antonio; Omaha; Cleveland; Indianapolis; Dayton-Springfield; Miami, Florida; Kansas City and Amarillo – all $105,800, or less.
Broad Range of Benefits
U.S. IEEE members who work full time are offered a broad assortment of benefits, although some shifts have occurred in the three general benefits categories: pension and retirement; health and insurance; and miscellaneous, which includes support for professional association dues and conferences.
In the 2001 survey, more than half (55%) of full-time workers were offered “defined benefit” (pension) retirement plans, which promises employees a certain amount, if they meet the terms of the plan, such as a minimum number of years of service. Keeping with the broader societal trend, that proportion dropped to 33.4% in 2014. At the same time, “defined contribution” plans – in which the employee, employer, or both pay a fixed amount into an interest-bearing account with future benefits dependent on investment earnings – remained flat at 88.7% in the current survey.
Health and insurance plans are offered to almost all full-time workers; 91.6% reporting their employers offer and contribute to basic health insurance, 85.5% major medical, and 83.2% dental insurance. Nine in ten full-time employees are offered life insurance and/or disability insurance. Other insurance benefits offered less frequently and also down significantly compared to last year’s survey, include long-term care (58.7%), well-baby care (47.7%), elder care referral services (26.9%) and day-care service or subsidy (26.4%).
This year, 54.7% of members reported their employers paid their professional association membership fees. However, only 66.5% said their employers offer to pay for them to attend professional conferences – continuing a more than 10% decline in the past decade.
The complete IEEE-USA 2014 Salary & Benefits Survey is available through the IEEE-USA Shop. The member price is $125; non-members, $225. Past Salary Surveys, IEEE-USA's new and improved Salary Calculators and other compensation tools can be found and purchased through the IEEE-USA Salary Service.
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Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.