Money & Happiness

Our Fourth Annual Salary Survey

By Emily Tipping

By some measures, we are standing firmly in economic recovery territory. But at the same time, job growth has been challenged on an ongoing basis, and wages, generally speaking, have essentially stagnated. It is in this economic climate that we turn our sights once again to the results of our annual Salary Survey.

Before we dig into the numbers, consider this. In May (the most recent month for which numbers have been released as of this writing), employers added a net gain of just 54,000 jobs (compared to 220,000 per month on average for the previous three months). And, according to the Labor Department, while the unemployment rate fell in 24 states, it rose in 13 and was flat in another 13, with the national rate rising slightly to 9.1 percent.

At the same time, states, counties and city government agencies are about to feel the effects of the loss of federal stimulus funding. While fiscal conditions at the state level have improved in 2011, the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) reports, "…as states entire fiscal 2012 they face the wind down of significant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)." The NASBO added that state revenues are also feeling the impact of continued high unemployment and reduced consumer spending, while the demand for healthcare and social services is still high. "As such," the NASBO states, "even after an improvement over one of the worst time periods in state fiscal conditions since the Great Depression, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 should present states with tough budget choices."

This is not good news for state and local governments that have already cut back severely. And the fallout from many of these cuts is felt by professionals employed in a wide variety of careers, from teachers and coaches in the schools to park district administrators. What's more, the continuing economic challenges affect donations to nonprofits, which affects TMCAs and others, as well as household budgets, meaning many have fewer dollars to spend on recreation, sports and fitness.

Despite all of this, respondents to our annual salary survey questionnaire continue to be relatively optimistic regarding their salaries (despite the fact that the average salary actually dropped in 2011 from 2010), and their job satisfaction levels rang in higher this year than last.


Survey Methodology

This report is based on a survey conducted for Recreation Management by Signet Research Inc., an independent research company. An e-mail was broadcast and respondents were invited to participate on the Web site. From the launch of the survey on Feb. 10, 2011 to the closing of the survey on March 1, 2,025 returns were received. The findings of this survey may be accepted as accurate, at a 95 percent confidence level, within a sampling tolerance of approximately +/- 2.2 percent.


Who Are You?

This year's average respondent is little different from last year's average respondent. If you take the overall numbers and crunch them into a single person, you have a white 49.7-year-old man with a bachelor's degree and 21.4 years of experience working in the industry, with 11.4 years in his current position as a director of a parks and recreation organization in Midwestern suburbia.

The actual respondents, of course, are more diverse than this would suggest, with a wide array of experiences, levels of education, job titles and more.

The largest group of respondents, 29.1 percent, were from the Midwest. They were followed by the West (21.7 percent), South Atlantic (18.4 percent), Northeast (17.2 percent), and South Central (13.3 percent) regions. Just 0.4 percent of respondents said they were from a country other than the United States.

Respondents also were most likely to report in from suburban areas, with 40.8 percent of the response coming from these types of communities. Nearly a third (32.8 percent) were from rural communities, and more than a quarter (26.4 percent) were from urban areas.

Nearly two-thirds (64.5 percent) of respondents said they worked for public organizations. Another fifth (20.8 percent) were with private nonprofits, and 13.1 percent were working for private for-profit facilities.

As in years past, parks and recreation was most heavily represented, with 37 percent of the response. Another 16.5 percent were from colleges and universities. Some 7.7 percent were from campgrounds, RV parks or private/youth camps; 7.4 percent were from schools and school districts; and 7.4 percent were from community or private recreation or sports centers. Another 6.1 percent worked for YMCAs, YWCAs, JCCs or Boys & Girls Clubs: and 3.6 percent were with sports, health or fitness clubs. Smaller numbers said they worked for resorts or resort hotels (2.5 percent), golf/country clubs (2.2 percent), military installations (1.5 percent), waterparks, amusement parks or theme parks (1.9 percent), ice rinks (0.5 percent), racquet/tennis clubs (0.4 percent), corporate recreation or sports centers (0.3 percent), or stadiums, arenas and tracks (0.3 percent).

Men made up the majority of respondents, with about two-thirds (66.1 percent) of responses coming from men. Just over a third (33.9 percent) were women.

The largest group of respondents (41.3 percent) indicated that they are currently between 50 and 59 years old. They were followed by those aged 40 to 49 (25.6 percent), 30 to 39 (12.4 percent), 60 to 65 (12 percent), 20 to 29 (4.8 percent), and older than 65 (4 percent).

Looking at ethnicity, an overwhelming majority of respondents were white, with 90.6 percent of the response. Much smaller groups were of other ethnicities, with 3 percent black, 2.6 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian or Pacific Islanders and 0.6 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native.

Job titles changed little from the 2010 survey. More than one-third (34.7 percent) of respondents said they were directors. Another 19.7 percent were in administration/management positions such as administrator, manager or superintendent. Some 15.6 percent were in operations/facility management positions such as operations manager, facility manager, building manager or supervisor. More than one in 10 (11.1 percent) were chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner at their organization. Slightly fewer (10.7 percent) were in program and activity administration, with job titles such as program director, manager, coordinator, specialist, coach or instructor. Finally, just 1 percent said they were in services positions such as planner, designer, architect and consultant. A full 7.2 percent listed their job title as something other than one of these categories. (See Figure 1.)

The job titles respondents gave tend to differ according to the type of facility where they work. For example, respondents from parks, colleges, schools, YMCAs and community centers were most likely to report that they were directors. Around 44.8 percent of college respondents were directors, and 38.5 percent of parks respondents had this job title. Administration management titles were most popular among parks respondents, where more than a quarter (25.2 percent) said they had this job title, while operations and facility management tiles were most common for respondents from schools and school districts, where 23.8 percent had this title. Respondents from health clubs were more likely than others to be the CEO, chairman, president, vice president or owner of their organizations.

Education & Experience

When it comes to education, respondents to our Salary Survey were highly likely to have earned at least a bachelor's degree. More than three-quarters (76.8 percent) had earned a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree.

The largest group of respondents, 42.6 percent, had earned a bachelor's degree. Another 31.1 percent indicated they had earned a master's degree or completed some level of postgraduate work. Some 12.7 percent had attended college for some time, but without earning a degree, and 6.8 percent said they had earned a two-year, or associate's, degree. Another 3.8 percent were high school graduates, and 3.1 percent had earned an advanced degree or Ph.D.

Predictably, respondents from colleges and universities were the most likely to report having completed a bachelor's degree or beyond. Some 95.9 percent of college respondents said they had earned a college degree or completed postgraduate work, with 16.4 percent saying they had a bachelor's degree, 67 percent reporting they had completed postgraduate work or earned a master's degree, and 12.8 percent indicating they had completed an advanced degree or Ph.D. Respondents from health clubs were the least likely to report having completed a bachelor's degree or higher, though 60.9 percent had.


Fewer respondents to this year's survey reported having two or fewer years of experience in their current jobs. While 19.8 percent of last year's respondents had been in their current position for less than two years, this year that number fell to 15.2 percent. Nearly a quarter (23.8 percent) of respondents said they had been in their current position for five to nine years. Another 17.3 percent had been in their current job for 10 to 14 years (a jump from 14.8 percent last year), and 16.9 percent had been in their current position for three to four years (up from 14.7 percent last year). (See Figure 2.)

On average, respondents have been working in the recreation, sports and fitness industry for 21.4 years. Here there was a jump in the number of respondents who had been in the industry for four years or fewer. This year, 8.7 percent of respondents had four or fewer years in the industry, compared to 7.1 percent last year. That said, well over half (55 percent) of respondents had been in the industry for at least two decades, and another 26.3 percent had been in the industry for at least 10 years, but less than 20. (See Figure 3.)

Respondents from camp facilities and schools and school districts reported the highest number of years working in their current position. Camp respondents have been in their current jobs for an average 12.8 years, while school respondents have been in their current jobs for an average of 12 years.

At the same time, respondents from parks and recreation, as well as schools and school districts, reported having the most experience in the industry. Parks respondents have been in the industry for an average of 22.7 years, while school respondents have an average 22.2 years of experience in the industry. That said, even those with the least amount of experience in the industry—respondents from community centers and camps—had at least 18 years of experience. (See Figure 4.)


While a majority of respondents (69.2 percent) said they had earned their CPR/AED/First Aid certification—a requirement for many recreation, sports and fitness careers—other certifications were less popular.

The most commonly held certifications, other than CPR/AED/First Aid, included aquatic management and pool operations certification, held by 19.7 percent of respondents (a slight increase from 19.3 percent last year); coaching certification, held by 18.8 percent of respondents (down from 21.5 percent last year); and lifeguard certification, held by 16.8 percent of respondents (up slightly from 16.4 percent last year).

The only change greater than 2 percent in the number of respondents with a particular certification was found for those holding teaching certifications, a number that dropped by 3 points, from 16 percent of respondents in 2010 to 13 percent in 2011.

And Now to the Money

The average salary for all survey participants dropped by 2.3 percent this year, from $65,300 in 2010 to $63,800 for this year's respondents. Much of this change was driven by an increase in the percentage of respondents making less than $70,000 a year. Last year 65.1 percent of respondents reported salaries at these levels, while in 2011 that figure rose to 66.6 percent.

Considering salaries according to the segment of the market covered, only four market segments saw average salaries rise from 2010 to 2011. The greatest increase was found among respondents from military installations, whose salaries rose 8.4 percent from an average of $65,800 in 2010 to $71,300 in 2011. They were followed by those from golf and country clubs, who reported the highest average salary in 2010, at $91,600, and saw an increase of 5.7 percent in 2011 to $96,800. Less substantial increases were reported by respondents from resorts and resort hotels (2.1 percent) and parks and recreation (0.3 percent). College and university respondents reported no change to their average salary from 2010 to 2011.


The steepest decline in salaries from 2010 to 2011 was reported by respondents from health clubs. These respondents had an average salary of $50,300 in 2011, a decrease of 18.5 percent from 2010. Sharp declines were also reported by respondents from YMCAs, who saw a 9.7 percent drop. Respondents from schools and school districts, community recreation centers and camps also saw their average salary decrease by 5.6 percent or more in 2011. (See Figure 5.)

No region was spared from the drop in average salaries in 2011. The greatest decline was found among respondents in the Midwest, who saw their salaries drop 4.2 percent from an average of $61,200 in 2010 to $58,600 in 2011. They were followed by those in the West, with a decrease of 2.4 percent, and the South, at 2 percent. Respondents in the Northeast also reported a slight decrease of 1 percent from 2010 to 2011. (See Figure 6.)

Average salaries varied a great deal according to different variables, including job title. The highest salaries were reported by respondents whose job title was chairman, CEO, president, vice president or owner. The average salary for these respondents was $91,400. Respondents in services jobs such as architect, planner or designer had the second highest average salary at $76,600. And respondents who had director positions were third with $72,800. The lowest average salaries were reported by respondents working in program and activity administration ($45,200) and operations or facility management ($52,200). (See Figure 7.)

As you might expect, average salaries also vary according to the level of education reported by respondents, with those who have a high school diploma earning the lowest average salary, and those with an advanced degree earning the highest average salary. (See Figure 8.)


Despite the drop in average salaries, respondents were slightly more likely this year to report that their salaries had increased from 2009 to 2010. While 34.2 percent anticipated such an increase last year, 36.8 percent this year said they had seen such an increase. But at the same time, 13 percent of this year's respondents reported a lower salary in 2010 versus 2009, compared with just 7.6 percent of respondents last year. Respondents were more positive looking at salary changes from 2010 to 2011, with 37.9 percent anticipating an increase, and 56.5 percent expecting no change. (See Figure 9.) See Figure 11 for a breakdown of salary increases according to market segment.



Working Life

This year saw a drop in the number of respondents who report working 50 or more hours weekly. While more than a third (34.4 percent) of respondents in 2010 said they worked at least 50 hours per week, that number dropped to 30.5 percent in 2011. The majority of respondents work between 40 and 49 hours per week, with 30.6 percent indicating they work between 40 and 44 hours weekly, and 31.7 percent reporting they work from 45 to 49 hours per week. (See Figure 10.)


For most respondents, 2011 saw a leveling off of weekly hours, which had been increasing steadily for a couple of years. The exception was found among health club respondents, who saw an increase in their working hours from an average of 46.9 in 2010 to 48.5 in 2011. Respondents working for schools reported the highest number of working hours, with an average of 51.2 hours. The shortest work weeks were found among respondents from community centers (45.4 hours weekly) and parks and recreation (45.8 hours weekly).

This year saw a drop in the number of respondents who feel their salary is appropriate given their current responsibilities in nearly every industry segment. Only respondents from YMCAs and community centers saw an increase in this number this year. For YMCAs, 51.3 percent feel their current salary is appropriate, compared with 41.1 percent last year. And for community centers, 52.1 percent feel their salary is appropriate, compared with 48 percent last year.

The greatest drop in the number of respondents who consider their salary appropriate was seen among college and university respondents. Just a third (33.3 percent) of these respondents feel their salary is appropriate, compared with 41 percent last year. They were followed by health clubs, where 34.9 percent feel their salary is appropriate, compared with 43.6 percent last year. (See Figure 12.)


Very few respondents report that their level of responsibility is decreasing year over year. That said, while 70.1 percent of last year's respondents were anticipating greater levels of responsibility in 2010, this year, just 65.3 percent indicated that such a change had occurred. A similar number expects their level of responsibility to increase in 2011. (See Figure 13.)


At the same time that a majority are seeing their level of responsibility increase at the same time that many believe their salaries to be inappropriately low, respondents are generally satisfied in their work. In fact, the number of respondents who report they are "very satisfied" has risen from 31.9 percent in 2008 to 38.2 percent in 2011. This means a vast majority—92.9 percent—are satisfied with their jobs. (See Figure 14.)



We're Just Getting Started

Want more? We'll be reporting additional information on salaries and jobs in the recreation, sports and fitness industry on the RecBlog.

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