Benton County sees largest wage gains in U.S., average weekly wages at $1,197

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 3,253 views 

Data from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that Benton County had the largest second quarter yearly wage gain among the nation’s 355 largest counties at a robust 16.3% gain.

At $1,197, the average weekly paycheck in the state’s second-largest county by population is well above the state and national average at $862 and $1,095 per week, respectively. In Benton County, average weekly wages rose by a whopping 35%, or $557, as white-collar positions in the professional and business services made the largest contribution to the spike in payrolls.

The new BLS workforce data for June 2018 to June 2019 provides a summary of employment and wage data for the nation’s largest counties, including Benton, Washington and Pulaski in Arkansas. Among the 355 largest counties, 347 had over-the-year increases in average weekly wages. In the second quarter of 2019, average weekly wages for the nation increased to $1,095, a 3.8% increase over the year, BLS officials said.

At the bottom of the list, McLean County in Illinois had the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in average weekly wages with a loss of 5.8%. Within McLean, financial activities had the largest impact, with an average weekly wage slide of $321, or 17.8%.

Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, said the new Labor Department data is consistent with the trend that Northwest Arkansas has seen for several years with low unemployment and high wages.

“We have seen both Washington County and Benton County rank pretty high on these lists over the last few years,” said Jebaraj. “The consistent low unemployment rate is what is often driving the wage increases and rankings. In particular, employment in the professional and business services in Northwest Arkansas has surged since June 2019 and that sector has jobs that are typically higher-paying jobs.”

In the two other Arkansas metropolitan areas that made the list of the nation’s largest counties, Pulaski and Washington counties saw modest wage growth of 3.2% and 4% over-the-year, pushing weekly paychecks at $949 and $904, respectively. Washington County, the state’s third-largest county by population ranked 110 nationally in wage gains, while Pulaski County ended up at 200th on the list.

On the employment side, job growth increased in 279 of the 355 largest U.S. counties. In June 2019, the nation’s civilian labor pool grew to a strong 149,089,200, a 1.1% increase over the year. Adams County in Colorado had the largest over-the-year increase in employment with a gain of 5.3%, largely from the addition of 3,592 jobs in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector.

On the other hand, Bay County in Florida experienced the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment with a loss of 6.4%. The Florida Panhandle county, home to Panama City, had the largest employment decline with a loss of 15.5% of its workforce, or 2,572 jobs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael that swept through the region in October 2018.

In Arkansas, the state’s 1,222,500 nonfarm workforce grew at only a rate of 0.6% in the second quarter of 2019 compared to the previous year. Benton County led that grow at 1.6% with 122,500 workers in its nonfarm labor pool, while Washington County’s labor force swelled by 0.9% to 109,600 workers. Pulaski County, the state’s largest county by population, was slightly ahead of the state average at a 0.7% growth rate. The central Arkansas metropolitan area had by far the largest employment base with 254,000 workers on state payrolls.

All of the 10 largest counties had over-the-year percentage increases in employment and average weekly wages. In June 2019, fast-growing Maricopa County in the Phoenix, Ariz., metropolitan area had the largest over-the-year employment percentage gain among the 10 largest counties at 3.1%. Within the county, education and health services had the largest employment increase with a gain of 4%, or 12,096 new jobs.

In second-quarter 2019, King County in Washington experienced the largest over-the-year percentage gain in average weekly wages among the 10 largest counties at 6.6%. The largest impact with an average weekly wage increase of $378, or 11.1%, year-over-year.

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