King County was a hotbed for job growth last year, but you wouldn’t know it to look at workers’ paychecks.
New federal data show that total employment in the county rose 3.7 percent in the third quarter of 2013 compared with a year earlier, while the average weekly wage of $1,376 increased only 1.6 percent in noninflation-adjusted terms.
The U.S. economy, by contrast, added jobs at a mere 1.7 percent annual pace, yet wage growth nationwide was a bit better than the county’s at 1.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In absolute terms, the county’s average weekly wage of $1,376 ranked 10th nationwide and was well above the U.S. average of $922, according to the BLS.
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The report seems to confirm widespread concerns among workers that in today’s post-recessionary economy, a significant pay raise is even harder to come by than a new job.
It also could add fuel to Seattle’s minimum-wage debate: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has voiced support for setting an hourly pay rate of $15, up from the statewide minimum of $9.32, but a committee he picked to develop a plan has yet to reach broad agreement.
A Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25 an hour by 2016 did not get enough support on Wednesday to advance in Congress, raising the stakes for local campaigns like Seattle’s 15 Now, which has begun collecting signatures to put a $15 pay mandate to a citywide vote in November.
“Even though we’ve seen some improvement in job growth, it’s just been too slow to translate to any real wage growth,” said David Cooper, an analyst at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
“When there’s high unemployment and employers have long lines of applicants, there’s no incentive for them to raise wages to attract new people. And they don’t have to raise wages to retain their existing employees, because they know (the employees) don’t have many options,” Cooper said.
Among the state’s large counties, Yakima had the lowest weekly wage at $638, but that was up 3.2 percent from the third quarter of 2012. Only Whatcom County, with a 6.9 percent increase, had a better growth rate.
The state’s 10 largest counties accounted for 84.5 percent of total employment in the state. King County’s 3.7 percent annual job growth was the state’s fastest, followed by a 3.5 percent rise in Clark County.
The Houston area’s Fort Bend County was No. 1 in the nation with a 6.0 percent annual job gain. Among the 334 largest U.S. counties, San Mateo, Calif., had the fastest year-over-year wage growth at 9.9 percent, while the Tampa Bay Area’s Pinellas County saw pay decline 4.3 percent.
In a separate report this month, the Washington Employment Security Department said that in 2012 job growth statewide was fastest at the extremes, up 4 percent for both high-wage jobs ($54 an hour or more) and low-wage jobs ($12 an hour or less).
Washington’s median hourly wage fell 41 cents to $21.64 in 2012. The average wage for the lowest-paid 10 percent of jobs remained at about $9.30 an hour, while pay at the top rose 2 percent to $98.09, excluding stock options and income from capital gains, according to employment security.
“The last time we saw strong wage growth across the board, particularly for people at the bottom, was in the late 1990s, when we had unemployment rates below 4 percent,” Cooper said. “It all comes back to low demand. There just hasn’t been enough demand in the economy to spur employers to hire new people.”
As of March, joblessness was 5.2 percent in the Seattle metro area and 6.3 percent statewide.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923