Washington County ranks 18th nationally in wage growth, wages statewide up 2.5%

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 422 views 

Arkansans looking for better paying jobs may want to head to Northwest Arkansas, where workers see about $150 more per week in their paycheck than those in other areas of the state, according to fourth quarter 2017 employment data posted Wednesday (May 23) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Among the nation’s 346 largest counties, Washington County in Northwest Arkansas ranked 18th in average weekly wage gains for the 12-month period that ended in December 2017. That wage growth, on a weekly basis, adds an extra $21.42 each week to the average $1,002 paycheck of the 107,400 workers in the state’s third most populous county.

And although Benton County saw a slight decline in weekly wages in the fourth quarter of -1.4% compared to a year ago, the 199,700 workers in the state’s second-largest county by population still have the largest paychecks in the state at $1,008 per week, BLS data shows.

“Given the low rates of unemployment here in Northwest Arkansas it is no surprise to see some wage growth as companies compete with each other to recruit and retain workers,” said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business. “In recent readings, both Benton and Washington Counties have traded places in the top ranked counties for wage growth.”

Last week, state Department of Workforce officials reported that Arkansas’ jobless rate held at 3.8% for the third straight month. The most recent data from the BLS shows the jobless rate in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area (MSA) at a tidy 2.8%, ranking the fast-growing region among the nation’s 25 largest urban areas with the lowest unemployment.

Despite the good news in Northwest Arkansas, overall weekly wages for Arkansas’ 1,217,200 employed workers rose only 2.5%, well below the 3.9% gain in fourth quarter for the other 144.7 million U.S. employees in the nation’s labor pool. That ranks the Natural State in a tie for 7th with Utah, Vermont, Puerto Rico and New Mexico for the states with the lowest percentage weekly wage growth among the 50 states, D.C. and U.S. territories.

Pulaski County, the state’s largest county by population with some 253,200 workers, ranked 264th with average wages of $971 per week, up 2.1% from a year ago. Still, Pulaski County had the lion’s share of the state’s 90,300 covered businesses with 14,400 establishments in Central Arkansas with weekly payrolls. Benton and Washington counties were next with 6,500 and 6,000 established businesses with employees at a physical location where commercial or industrial activity is performed.

In terms of actual salary, take home pay for Arkansas workers was 48th out of the 50 states and D.C. with average wages of $848 per week. Only workers in Mississippi and West Virginia had thinner wallets after cashing their payroll checks with average weekly wages of only $774 and $847, respectively.

Workers in Puerto Rico the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are still recovering from the effects of last year’s hurricane season, also saw a steep decline in average wages of -4.4% and -11.1%, respectively. That amounts to weekly take home pay of $570 and $827 per week for the two hurricane-wracked U.S. island territories.

Nationally, average weekly wages for the U.S. workers increased to $1,109, a decent 3.9% spike for three-month period ending in December 2017. Among the 346 largest counties, 339 had over-the-year increases in average weekly wages. San Mateo, Calif., and Ada, Idaho, had the largest percentage wage increases at 11.5% each.

Santa Clara, Calif., and New York, N.Y., by far, had the largest average weekly wages at $2,576 and $2,439. Two other California counties, San Mateo and San Francisco, were the other regions with average weekly wages over $2,000 per week at $2,341 and $2,232, respectively. Suffolk, Mass., Washington, D.C., Fairfield, Conn., Fairfax, Va., and Middlesex, Mass., rounded out the top 10.

Only seven out of the 346 counties experienced an over-the-year decrease in average weekly wages. Clayton, Ga., had the largest percentage decrease in average weekly wages at 6.7% followed by Champaign, Ill.; Benton County, Ark.; Wyandotte, Kan.; and Rockland, N.Y.

All the 10 largest counties also had over-the-year percentage increases in employment in December 2017. Maricopa, Ariz., had the largest gain at 3% as construction employment had the largest over-the-year increase with a gain of 10,168 jobs, or 9.7%. Cook, Ill., home to Chicago, had the smallest percentage increase in employment among the 10 largest counties at only 0.6% with most job gains in the education and health services sector.

The BLS data for the fourth quarter of 2017 is a marked improvement from the previous three-month period. At the end of September 2017, average wages of $788 per week in Arkansas fell 0.6% year-over-year. Nationwide, the U.S. average weekly wage decreased by 0.6%, falling to $1,021 in the third quarter – the third decline since first quarter 2016 and one of only nine declines in the history of the BLS series that dates to 1978.

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