Arkansas workers see weekly wages stall in late 2017; Washington County among nation’s top decliners

by Wesley Brown ( 324 views 

Arkansas employers continued to add jobs through the third quarter of 2017, but wage growth hit a wall as average weekly pay was down 0.6% from the previous year, according to the U.S.  county workforce data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For September 2016 to September 2017, average wages of $788 per week in Arkansas fell 0.6% year-over-year. Nationwide, the U.S. average weekly wage also decreased by 0.6%, falling to $1,021 in the third quarter of 2017. This is the third decline since first quarter 2016, and one of only nine declines in the history of the BLS series that dates to 1978.

Overall, weekly wages for Arkansas’ 1.21 million workers fell nearly 23% behind the same take home pay of the other 143 million U.S. workers, ranking the Natural State 49th out of the 50 states. Mississippi workers, ranked last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, had average wages of only $729 per week.

Among the nation’s 346 largest counties, Washington County in Northwest Arkansas ranked 341. That put the Northwest Arkansas county among the top 10 decliners in the U.S. as average weekly wages fell 4.7% for the 12-month period that ended in September 2017. That wage loss, on a weekly basis, takes about a $41 bite out the average $843 paycheck of the 107,100 workers in the state’s third most populous county.

Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business, said he can’t think of anything or any one event that would have caused the wage drop in Washington County.

Pulaski County, the state’s largest county by population with some 251,300 workers, ranked 266th with average wages of $904 per week, down 2.2% from a year ago. Benton County, the second largest county with over 118,000 workers, fared much better with 0.7% wage growth year-over-year. The far Northeast Arkansas county, which is home to Walmart, had the state’s highest average wages at $942 per week, BLS data show.

Among the nation’s growing labor pool, employment increased in 283 of the 346 largest U.S. counties. Midland County, Texas, had the largest percentage gain at 10.4% over the year, well above the national job growth rate of 1%. That same Texas county also had the largest over-the-year percentage increase in average weekly wages with a gain of 8.4%, or about $180.

Collier County in south Florida had the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment among the nation’s largest counties with a loss of 5.2%. That region near the Everglades saw a huge 12.8% decline in construction employment, resulting in a loss of 1,879 jobs.

Mercer County in New Jersey had the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in average weekly wages with a loss of 8.8%. Workers in that East Coast county saw average weekly wages fall by 13.1% or $260, as professional and business services made the largest contribution to the lower pay.

In September 2017, national employment rose to 144.5 million, an addition of more than 1.5 million jobs over the 12-month period. The nation’s 346 largest counties with 75,000 or more jobs accounted for 72.7% of total U.S. employment and 77.8% of total wages.

Los Angeles County, by far, had the most workers at 4.4 million. Cook County in Illinois, home to Chicago, ranked second with 2.57 million workers. New York County ranked third with 2.45 million workers in its labor pool.

Among the 10 largest counties, nine had over-the-year percentage increases in employment in September 2017. King County in Washington State, home to Seattle and the region’s thriving tech sector, had the largest gain at 2.8%. Within that county, trade, transportation and utilities had the largest over-the-year employment level increase, with a gain of 16,733 jobs, or 6.6%.

Miami-Dade, Fla., had the only percentage decrease in employment among the 10 largest counties at 1.7%. Those losses mostly came within the tourism sector, where year-over-year employment levels decline by 4.9%, representing a loss of 6,855 jobs.

Average weekly wages decreased over the year in seven of the 10 largest U.S. counties. Dallas County in Texas experienced the largest percentage loss in average weekly wages at 1.9%. Workers in the trade, transportation and utilities sector saw the largest impact on average weekly wage loss at 5.5%, or about $61 per week.

King County had the largest percentage gain in average weekly wages among the 10 largest at 2.7%. Workers in the information and technology sector has the largest impact on average weekly wage growth at 3.4%, or $169.

The BLS’s County Employment and Wage report for fourth quarter 2017 will be released May 23, 2018. That report will include year-end bonuses paid to thousands of rank-and-file workers after Congress passed the U.S. Tax Cut and Job Acts in December.