I haven't gotten a raise in years

Here's why you should ask for a raise in 2015
Here's why you should ask for a raise in 2015

No one needs to tell Sandy Humphrey that wages are stagnating. She feels it in every paycheck.

The Oklahoma state worker hasn't gotten a raise since 2012, and she's not expecting one this year either.

That's making it tough for her to meet her bills, even though she and her husband have moved to a home with lower rent and utility costs.

"I once was middle class, but I'm now lower middle class and falling," said Humphrey, 57, an accounts payable manager. "Everything around us has gone up."

The Humphreys may start a side business of creating and selling lamps made from bottles and pipes.

james sandy humphrey
James and Sandy Humphrey

"We're looking to add to our income by using the talents we have," she said, noting that she's creative and her husband knows how to do electrical work. "You can't count on getting that raise."

The lack of wage growth is one of the major problems afflicting the country. Average hourly earnings barely rose above inflation last year and median income is back to 1995 levels, leaving many people feeling strapped.

Related: Here's why the middle class feels squeezed

These measures, however, look at the economy in the big picture. Hidden within are the millions of Americans like Humphrey who literally have not received a raise...some of them for years.

Take Theresa Raimondi of Milford, Conn.

The insurance account manager has not received a raise in the three years she's worked at a small firm. She's asked for an increase during her annual reviews in February, only to be told to wait. Last summer, Raimondi requested a bump just to keep up with inflation and higher health insurance costs, only to be brushed off again.

theresa raimondi
Theresa Raimondi

Raimondi said she's been offered other jobs, but at lower salaries. Meanwhile, she has to shell out more for rent, utilities, food and school supplies for her daughter, an honors high school student. And after her employer restructured the firm's health insurance plan, she's paying 10 times more for medical care.

"It's now costing me more just to work," she said.

President Obama is looking to put a few more dollars into middle class and working families' paychecks. He has proposed a $500 tax credit for married couples who each hold jobs to help alleviate the costs of child care and commuting.

Related: Most Americans feel they are falling behind

Some people, like Derek Squires of Augusta, Maine, have received tiny raises that have been eaten up by higher health care costs.

An accountant with a federal agency, Squires suffered through a pay freeze in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He received a 1% raise last year, but his health insurance premium soared 7%. So he was taking less home. This year, he's expecting another paltry 1% raise.

He and his co-workers were recently reminiscing about the days a decade ago when they got decent raises. Now, Squires is sleeping under extra blankets to try to lower his heating costs and has cut down on buying fresh fruit and fish for himself and his wife, though he still provides it for his two young children at home. Healthy food is now a luxury, not a weekly staple for him.

"The economy is getting better by the statistics, but it's not getting better for the middle class," Squires said.

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