A new federal report indicates Whatcom County boosted wages in the first quarter of 2017, following a trend across the U.S.
The average Whatcom County weekly wage was $883 at the end of March, a 7 percent increase compared to a year earlier, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Across the U.S., the weekly wage increased 6.6 percent, averaging $1,111.
King County continues to have the highest average salary in Washington state, at $1,601 a week – a 10 percent increase from a year ago.
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Out of the 10 biggest counties in Washington, Whatcom’s wage was ninth-highest, ahead of Yakima’s $725 a week. All 10 Washington counties surveyed had annual increases of at least 5 percent.
One reason for the boost was the jump in the hourly minimum wage, which rose from $9.47 in 2016 to $11 on Jan. 1. The minimum wage will rise to $11.50 an hour starting in 2018.
The end of the year is also a time when many companies conduct annual wage reviews, creating bigger increases, said James McCafferty, director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.
The boost in local wages during the first quarter came at a time when unemployment dropped significantly. Whatcom’s unemployment rate at the end of March was 5.3 percent, down from 6.4 percent in March 2016. The county’s unemployment rate has dropped further in the past few months, sitting at 4.7 percent in April, May and July, according to data from the state’s Employment Security Department.
During the first quarter Whatcom County posted a big increase in construction jobs, which tends to pay a higher wage than many industries.
While a low unemployment rate and a demand for workers usually lead to increased wages, McCafferty said he is skeptical about whether that will happen in this case. One reason is because of how people are behaving with this recovery.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and that is impacting both those seeking jobs and those offering them,” McCafferty said.