What will it take to start a career in construction?
Wages in Whatcom County remain below the national average, but there are some local industries that pay very well.
The average hourly wage for all jobs in Whatcom County was $23.09 in May 2017, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's 5 percent lower than the national average hourly wage of $24.34.
The average Whatcom County wage is much lower than the national average in several industries, including legal (lower by 32 percent compared to the national average), arts/entertainment (lower by 23 percent) and computers/mathematical (lower by 16 percent).
Whatcom wages are better-than-average in several key industries, including protective services (42 percent higher that the national average), farming (33 percent higher) and construction (21 percent higher).
In the protective services category, which includes police officers, security guards, fire inspectors and fire fighters, the average hourly wage in Whatcom County is $32.11, while the national average is $22.69. The protective services category also includes border patrol agent, which tends to be paid a higher wage than many other positions in that category.
It's nice to see a set of occupations paying well in Whatcom County that mostly call for a high school diploma, said Hart Hodges, director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.
Construction is one industry experiencing very strong job growth in addition to paying above the national average. The average hourly construction job wage is $29.08 in Whatcom County compared to $24.01 across the U.S.
The federal report indicated that Whatcom County has a higher concentration of high-paying construction jobs than the national average, an indication that it is a factor in the overall average wage. For example Whatcom has a higher concentration of people employed as plumbers and pipefitters, which pays an average hourly wage of $48.28.
This makes sense, because Whatcom has things like refineries that regularly need skilled workers that are paid a higher wage, said Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state.
As for demand for construction workers, that's not only high in Whatcom County but through much of the Pacific Northwest. He said demand is strongest in the urban areas, but it's also a trend in the rural parts of the state.