By Stefanie O'Connell GOBankingRates.com.
The median household income in the United States is $51,939, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data. However, the cost of living the American dream is more than double that, coming in around $130,000 for a family of four, according to a USA Today analysis.
Even as job growth gains traction, salaries remain stagnant, with hourly wages up just 1.98 percent over from February 2014 to 2015, according to The New York Times. A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests that low- and middle-class workers might be in the midst of a salary downshift, with almost two-thirds of American households earning less money today than they did in 2002.
Meanwhile, costs continue to climb, leaving many straining to cover essential expenses, such as health care and day care. In an August 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Americans reported their family's income falling behind the cost of living, up from 44 percent in 2007.
The growing need for increased wages has taken over the national spotlight, but banking on policy changes might prove a long and costly wait. Americans can't afford to watch their purchasing power slowly erode as wages struggle to keep pace with inflation.
If you find yourself part of this suffering majority, consider your alternatives. The improving economic climate might not be reflected in your current income, but the information and resources for maximizing your professional value are more accessible than ever.
With these strategies, you can double your salary in as little as two years.
ASK FOR A PERFORMANCE RAISE If you're a top performer in a competitive industry, you don't have to wait for the standard 12-month check-in to renegotiate. You don't need to limit yourself to the typical 3 or 5 percent increase, either. While working in community outreach, Tonya Rapley used her impressive performance record to increase her salary by $20,000 in two years. She recounts one performance review, "I exceeded expected revenues by $11,000 and made mention of it. How can you resist someone who makes money for you?"
"Too many individuals request raises based on their situations, I have a mortgage to pay, I have mounting medical bills, I have two children in college," cautions career expert Lori Rassas. "The conversation should be about the employer. Find out precisely what the employer needs, then do whatever it takes to provide it." Track your work progress to tangibly show your employer the value you add to the company, then request raises in line with your accomplishments.
BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR WITHIN YOUR JOB Brandon Turner, senior editor of the online real estate magazine BiggerPockets and host of the BiggerPockets podcast, found another way to profit from the value he added to his company, in-house entrepreneurship. By proposing new revenue generators and negotiating a commission on each unit sold, Turner doubled his salary in a matter of months. Introducing performance-based pay opportunities scales income, allowing for unlimited individual earning potential that also benefits the company. As Turner found, it's a win-win.
GET CERTIFIED "Increase your employability with a degree or certification," suggests certified career coach Cheryl Palmer. "That degree can be a good reason for an employer to give you a raise and maybe even a promotion." After finishing his Master of Business Administration degree, Jason Vitug upgraded his job as a credit union branch manager in New Jersey to a senior executive position at a credit union in California, making more than double his former salary while enjoying better benefits and bonuses a year later.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates the lifelong value of higher learning. The median annual earnings for workers without a high school diploma are just $24,544. Those with a professional degree however, earn a median salary of $89,128. (There are exceptions: Some high-paying jobs don't require a college degree.)
While the numbers are favorable, note that certifications, licenses and degrees don't carry guarantees. "Research salary rates before investing in a degree or certification so that you can calculate your return on investment," cautions Palmer. Median pay among graduate degree holders in electrical engineering for example is $121,000, whereas master's degree holders in counseling see a median pay of just $52,300. Certifications and degrees can serve as pathways to raises, promotions and higher-paying jobs, but be sure the investment is worthwhile before committing to any program.
LEVERAGE YOUR EXPERIENCE Dan Demus found his income tripled when he was recruited for a position in the defense contracting business requiring government security clearance that he had gained during his military service. Drawing upon past experience, skills and relationships can prove highly valuable, says career coach Iola Yhap. "Employees can speak, train or do consulting on the side with the expertise they have developed from the workplace." Technology makes it easier than ever to showcase your unique skills and experience to a worldwide audience. Create a basic website or LinkedIn page, even if you're not on the hunt for a new job. This proactive approach can help develop a steady stream of side income while you positioning yourself for advanced positions at higher pay.
BE BOLD If you're not getting the pay increases you need at your current place of employment, be prepared to walk away for career opportunities elsewhere. Be bold in your networking, applications, interviews and negotiations. In an article for The Atlantic, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay write, "Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence."
Starting over with a new employer gives you the opportunity to re-anchor your salary, making it easier to secure that 100 percent pay increase you're after. If you start out with a small salary and count on future raises contingent on percentage increases, your pay becomes inherently limited for the duration of your tenure as an employee.
Need more proof of job-hopping as a reliable route to double income? Consider this, employees who stay in companies longer than two years get paid 50 percent less, Forbes reports. Don't allow doomsday media frenzies and dreary economic forecasts to put a damper on your career growth. Average income might be stalled, but a focus on your value contributions, skills, experience and expertise, paired with confidence, can earn you double your current salary in no time. ___ Stefanie O'Connell writes for GOBankingRates.com a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt.