A new federal report found wages rose significantly across Washington state last fall, including in Whatcom County.
The average weekly wage was $898 in Whatcom County in September, a 5.3 percent increase compared to the same period in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The average salary increase across Washington state was 6.2 percent, ranking it second highest in the U.S. The national average increase was 3.3 percent, according to the report.
King County played a big factor in driving that state increase, rising 7.9 percent to an average weekly wage of $1,752. That was the second-highest percentage increase across the nation.
Wage increases were strong across the state because this area has huge pockets of large employers such as Amazon that expanded last year, said Jim Vleming, a regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. He said companies along the I-5 corridor were driving a lot of the wage growth, but in other parts of the state low unemployment and a boost in higher-paying construction jobs played a role, too.
Vleming believes wages will continue to rise, even if the unemployment rate creeps up. Wage growth lagged even when unemployment was low a few years ago, so it might take some time before it slows down. At this point the data suggests state unemployment shouldn’t see big jumps in the near future, he said.
“There was a long time when we didn’t see a lot of wage growth, so this is a positive turn,” Vleming said in an interview.
The increase in construction jobs helped Whatcom County come away with nice wage growth, but that was expected, said Hart Hodges, director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University. Given the population size of the Seattle area, however, that 7.9 percent increase really shows how strong that economy was last fall.
“The increase in Seattle is impressive,” Hodges said in an email.
While Whatcom’s year-over-year increase was strong, the weekly wage remains relatively low. The $898 weekly wage ranked 237th among the 349 largest counties in the nation. Whatcom’s weekly wage also ranked ninth among the 10 largest Washington state counties.
Skagit County’s weekly wage was $944, according to the report.