How National Consumer Price Inflation Widens the Wage Gap | #eBizInsights | Bryden Morton


How National Consumer Price Inflation Widens the Wage Gap

South Africa’s inflation rate is calculated by measuring the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the month in question to the same month of the previous year. The Consumer Price Index is calculated by monitoring the change in the price of a particular basket of goods and services from the base year to the current date. The weightings used for the goods in this basket are determined by Statistics South Africa.

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There are five expenditure groups which have differing baskets of goods based on what portion of their expenditure is used to purchase these goods and services. The CPIs of these expenditure groups are used to calculate the national CPI, however they do not receive an equal weighting as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1: CPI Weighting by Expenditure Group

Expenditure Group CPI Weighting
Very low 2.27%
Low 4.58%
Middle 8.08%
High 18.60%
Very High 66.47%

*Source: Statistics South Africa

Table 2: Percentage of Organisations which use CPI to determine Increases by Occupational Level

  CEO Executive Management Management General Staff
CPI 76% 80% 80% 80%

*Source: 21st Century Increase Reportlogo-for-slider-section-JPEG

It seems logical that CPI should be the most commonly used metric in determining annual salary increases, however, is national CPI equally applicable to all employees? The annual CPI for each expenditure group is summarised in Table 3.

Table 3: CPI by Expenditure Group (2009 – 2016)

Expenditure Group 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Average
Very low 9.0% 3.1% 6.2% 7.0% 6.2% 6.2% 5.3% 7.9% 6.4%
Low 9.1% 3.2% 6.0% 6.8% 6.0% 6.1% 5.1% 7.5% 6.2%
Middle 8.9% 3.4% 5.8% 6.6% 5.9% 6.1% 4.8% 6.9% 6.0%
High 8.0% 4.0% 5.8% 6.4% 6.1% 6.0% 4.4% 6.3% 5.9%
Very High 6.6% 4.6% 4.8% 5.3% 5.7% 6.0% 4.6% 6.1% 5.5%
National CPI 7.2% 4.3% 5.1% 5.7% 5.8% 6.1% 4.6% 6.4% 5.6%

*Source: Statistics South Africa

Given that the lower income groups face higher inflation rates relative to the higher income groups, the question to be asked is, should the goods and services that the higher income  groups spend their income on influence the increases of the lower expenditure groups when they face a higher inflation rate? The lowest four expenditure groups all faced a higher average inflation rate than the average national inflation rate between 2009 and 2016.
This means that if all employees received the national CPI inflation rate as their salary increase the only expenditure group that would have had an average increase in real income over this period of time is the Very High expenditure group.

A real increase in income is the difference between the salary increase received and the inflation rate faced by the employee. Although CPI inflation is the most commonly used metric in determining annual increases, it is in most cases not the only metric used. This is why according to the 21st Century Increase Report (; median salaries have experienced real increases in thirteen of the last fifteen years. Figure 4, illustrates the average annual real salary increase for each expenditure group.

The lowest income group receiving the lowest increases in their real incomes has been a contributor to the movement which is striving for a minimum wage to be imposed. Although that is a separate topic to this, it has been driven by employees feeling that they are becoming increasingly worse off as their expenses rise at a rate which is higher than their income.
Using national CPI inflation as an input to determining annual salary increases and applying it to all employees within an organisation is not an accurate means of determining the increase in each employee’s living expenses. Making use of differentiated consumer inflation rates (perhaps by occupational level) would be a step in the right direction when determining the true impact of inflation on various groups of employees.

If this methodology is applied correctly, an equalisation increasing salaries at the lower occupational levels will take place (and possibly even a correction) which would at a minimum arrest the Wage Gap and perhaps even begin to reduce it depending on how these differentiated methodologies are applied.

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