The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently published its 2021 Compensation Report, a biannual study of the financial health of the architecture profession. Given the unprecedented toll that COVID has taken on virtually every field for the last 18 months, this year’s report shed light during a moment that otherwise had little clarity.
“Like many professions, architecture firms across the country have had to weather an incredibly volatile period,” said Kermit Baker, chief economist of the AIA, in a press statement. “While we have seen an unprecedented recovery in architecture firm billings during 2021, this report provides a valuable snapshot of the impact the pandemic had last year on firm compensation and employment levels.”
Using data for 44 firm positions in 31 states, 33 metro areas, and 18 cities, the report’s authors discovered that American architecture firms had lost around 16,000 positions between February and July 2020 alone, reflecting 8 percent of all payroll positions during that period. “At firms with fewer than 50 employees,” the report states, “benefits as a share of base pay declined to 14.4 percent on average in 2020, after averaging just over 18 percent nationally two decades ago.”
While the number of positions held fell dramatically over the last two years, the report observed that compensation for architectural staff at domestic firms changed very little. The average compensation has increased 0.3 percent per year since 2019, significantly less than the 2.4 percent increase seen on average across all professions in that same time period. And while the average salary for recent architecture graduates remained under $56,000, starting compensation varies more widely across the country than it had in the past, now ranging from $48,000 to $69,000. The AIA has provided an online salary calculator that includes data, current as of the beginning of this year, for full-time architectural staff employees at AIA member firms in the United States with three or more architectural staff employees.
The numbers reflected in the two-year Compensation Report are perhaps less optimistic than the July Architecture Billings Index report (ABI), which marked the six month of growth in a row since January 2021.