Work

49% of workers got a pay raise in 2019—here's how to get one in 2020

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In 2019, your odds of earning a raise were nearly even.

According to a new report from Bankrate.com, 28% of workers received a raise in 2019. Additionally, 12% of workers got a better paying job; plus, 10% got both a raise and a better paying job in the past 12 months.

Overall, 49% of workers earned a pay increase in some form, the highest rate since 2016 and a significant increase from 2018, when only 38% of workers saw any form of a pay increase.

This year, raises were mostly given to high-earning workers with high education levels. Roughly 56% of college graduates earned more money over the past year, compared to 45% of those without a college degree.

About 55% of those making more than $50,000 saw a pay increase this year, while 64% of those earning less than $30,000 saw no positive change in their income.

Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst, tells CNBC Make It that he wasn't surprised that only half of workers got pay raises this year, especially since companies have moved away from the practice of giving regular raises to keep wages consistent with inflation.

"What we are seeing, and we've seen this over the last several years, is that fewer and fewer employees are getting a standard cost of living raise and that increasingly, pay increases are coming in the form of performance-based raises, promotions or new job responsibilities," says McBride, explaining that the causes for this trend are hard to determine.

"It's partly because we've got a slow-growth economy. And in a slow-growth economy, both consumers and businesses have to be deliberate about where they spend and where they don't," he says. "Another contributing factor is just the supply and demand dynamic. Employees that are difficult to replace, that really move the needle, they get paid. And those that can be more easily replaced, they have less bargaining power."

Here are three steps workers can take to increase their earnings in the new year:

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Perfect your performance review

Since raises today are often linked to performance, McBride says an annual review with a manager is an ideal time for workers to advocate for themselves.

"When it comes time for your review, make a list of all of your accomplishments and particularly highlight those that have a direct impact on the bottom line," he explains. "Quantifying your value to your employer puts the wind at your back."

By being organized and clear about their contributions, employees can make the most of their performance reviews.

"Everybody thinks they're a great worker, but only half of people are above average," says McBride. "Employers aren't giving out standard raises across the board like they used to. You really have to demonstrate how you are impacting the bottom line and how you are a notch above your colleagues."

Specialize

McBride also points to education and specialization as a way that workers can increase their wages.

"This is a labor market that rewards those who have unique skills, talents or qualifications," he explains. "Work on getting that certification that sets you apart from your colleagues."

That also includes earning a degree in an in-demand field.

"Getting a college degree, if done right, is still the best investment you're ever gonna make," says McBride. "Even with a modest amount of debt, borrowing $30,000, which is the typical debt of an undergrad, for $1 million in additional lifetime earnings — that's a pretty good return on investment."

Students can use the College Scorecard to see the exact earnings of graduates broken down by school and by program if they want more detailed information about any educational investment.

Job search

If steps like these don't work, McBride says workers should be willing to look for new opportunities.

"Despite the strong labor market, only one in four workers intend to look for a new job in the next 12 months," he explains. "It's good news for employers, but that is a little surprising given that only half of workers got pay raises."

Workers have an advantage right now, he says. "There's more open, unfilled jobs than there are unemployed people."

If they do get a new opportunity, workers may want to consult their employers to see if they will match or counter their outside offer.

McBride added one warning: Be prepared to follow through.

"Don't go stomping into your boss's office, threatening to leave unless you plan to back it up," he says.

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