The numbers don't quite make sense this year to Dennis Gros.
And that's saying something for a guy who's been finding people jobs in the plastics and packaging sectors for more than a quarter century.
Gros, president of Gros Executive Recruiters, and the Society of Plastics Engineers are out with the new 2016 Plastics Salary and Trends Survey looking at compensation for plastics professionals in 2015.
“It's crazy,” he said.
Average cash compensation is down by about 5 percent for the 1,291 who participated in the survey at $113,588. That's off from an average of $119,576 in 2014.
The recruiter believes that some psychology could be behind the numbers survey participants reported this time around, with folks feeling the pressure of rising prices amid static base salaries in recent years.
The survey asks participants to report their base salaries as well as any additional compensation such as bonuses and commissions.
And here's where it gets interesting: the average base salary in the new survey was $102,635, down about 2 percent from $104,722 in the previous survey.
“I think it feels like the economic squeeze of expenses going up, bills going up and salaries and compensation being generally flat. Maybe incentives are less generous than previously because of economic conditions. It feels like employees are earning less. That's how it feels to them,” Gros said.
“I don't believe that salaries have actually been slashed by 2 percent,” he said. “It's either a statistical error or it's a psychological reaction. Or it's a different group of people who responded to our survey this year compared to last year.”
“There's a 2-percent gap that I cannot definitely explain,” Gros said about the year-to-year numbers.
Over at SPE, Managing Director Russell Broome believes he has some insight that makes the numbers make more sense.
“We are starting to enter a high-retirement zone, and those individuals who would have taken the survey in previous years had much higher salaries than the young professionals coming in to replace them,” Broome said. “You would assume that our survey respondents would have mimicked the industry.”
“The young professionals,” said Sue Wojnicki, manager of marketing and communications at SPE, “are more apt to get a lower salary.”
Broome also believes the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, also could have played a part in the numbers being reported.
“A lot of companies that were hit with higher costs for benefits rolled that down to the employees in one of two ways,” he said. “Some made the employee take a compensation decrease to make up for the addition cost of benefits.”
The other way, Broome said, was that companies passed along those costs to employees directly. “So while your [gross] salary many not have changed, you would have higher deductions.”
Gros is better able to accept the accuracy of the decrease in total cash compensation because those numbers tend to vary more year-to-year as they include bonuses and commissions that can rise and fall.
Broome agreed there's more room for expected movement when considering total compensation. But he also said he believes the plastics industry compared with other manufacturing sectors is “fairing much better.”
He also said areas that SPE is really focused on, including tooling, design and engineering, are showing “increases in salaries even though the total compensation was seeing a decrease. So that was of note to me.”
With nearly 1,300 respondents, Gros is confident that his survey gathered information from enough people.
As for the future, respondents do not believe they are in for big raises. Just 24 percent indicated they expect their income to increase by more than 3 percent this year. The rest believe there will be raises of less than 3 percent, including some who do not expect any increase.
Despite the downturn in the numbers, Gros said he expects this year will end better.
“Because we're eternally optimistic. To do otherwise would be more depressing than we chose to be,” he said.