Which American Salaries Haven’t Kept Up With Inflation?

Key Takeaways

  • The average salaries of dentists, actors, and architects have decreased the most in the past 10 years.
  • Airline pilots have seen the highest average salary increase in 10 years (71.9%), and their value has increased the most (by 25.1%).
  • The average annual salary in the U.S. has increased by 31.2% since 2010, but its value has decreased by 4.5%.

The Value of Your Job Changes Over Time

You may not realize it, but jobs fluctuate in value over time. What was once a well-paid occupation might not still be so by today’s standards. Some salaries grow, while others shrink or stay practically the same from year to year. Constant economic shifts also affect the dollar’s buying power and salary values.

In this article, we’ll explore which occupations have grown in value and which have diminished since 2010. Using data and the inflation calculator from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we’ll adjust 2010 salaries for 2022 inflation, compare those salaries to current pay, and see if their values have improved or declined. Curious to see where your job landed? Read on to find out.

What Are the Fastest Growing Occupations?

Some occupations’ salaries grow quickly, others get eaten up by inflation, and a few barely move at all. In this section, we’ll look at which ones have received the biggest salary increase over the last 10 years.

One of the most stand-out statistics we found was the average salary increase of airline pilots. In the past 10 years, theirs have increased by a hefty 71.9%. One reason for this could be the shortage of pilots during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many retired or accepted buyouts from their employers, creating a tight labor market for their industry.

Dentists, on the other hand, received only a 5.3% salary increase on average. This finding is surprising, given that dental school costs for U.S. residents have increased drastically from approximately $131,736 in 2010 to $210,625 in 2022. The tiny salary increase dentists have received over that same period pales in comparison.

Conversely, servers (39.5%), fast food workers (40%), and bartenders (42.2%) have had some of the largest salary increases in the last 10 years. Some of this may be attributed to employers in the hospitality sector trying to entice workers back to their jobs after COVID-19, as well as the "Fight For $15" campaign; an effort started in 2015 to raise the U.S. minimum wage, which is what many food service employees earn.

Which Job Values Have Changed the Most

The cost of goods in 2010 has changed a lot in the past 10 years, and the same goes for annual salaries. Let’s explore which jobs have seen the most fluctuation in value due to inflation. To determine this, we used BLS data to compare the 2022 buying power of salaries in 2010 to current salaries to see which occupations have changed the most due to inflation.

The U.S. job market hasn’t kept up with inflation in recent years. Unfortunately, only one-fifth of occupations have kept their value since 2010, and the average annual salary has decreased in value by 4.5%. Some professions felt this sting more than others. For example, nurses who earned an average of about $93,000 per year in 2010, when adjusted for inflation, now make under $83,000 in 2022 — an 11.1% drop in value.

But we saw the biggest drop in value among dentists’ salaries: a 23.4% drop over the last 10 years. In 2010, dentists made $218,138 per year on average, which fell to $167,160 in 2022. Comparatively, airline pilots received a 25.1% increase from $158,413 to $198,190.

Most of the jobs we studied earned decreased pay over time, but several saw an increase: airline pilots, software developers, dancers, bartenders, farmers, servers, and fast food workers. Even so, nearly all of these increases were less than 8% (aside from the pilots).

Are Things Going To Change?

While some occupations have lucked out in the past decade when it comes to pay, others have missed out. While airline pilots have done very well, dentists’ and nurses’ salaries have, unfortunately, declined in value since 2010 — despite the value of their work to the public.

If salaries continue to decrease in value at these rates, we’re likely to see an increase of labor organization and strikes, which have already risen in the U.S. While most American workers hold out for their wages to go up, perhaps we’ll see more of them taking advantage of the higher wages food service work offers these days, or pursuing careers in software development. In the meantime, these might make for lucrative side gigs.


We collected data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to find national averages for different occupations. We compared data from 2010 and 2021 to see how salaries have changed over the years. We also used the BLS inflation calculator to adjust each 2010 salary for current inflation. We then compared these adjusted numbers to current salaries to see which jobs have kept their value and which have failed to keep up with inflation.

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