Whatcom wages are on the rise, but still can’t keep up with other areas of Washington

The Bellingham Herald

Wages in Whatcom County took another big jump at the end of 2018, but a new federal report indicates it is not keeping pace with much of Western Washington.

The average weekly wage was $944 in Whatcom County during the fourth quarter, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 4.8% increase compared to a year ago, well above the national average increase of 3.2%.

Across Washington state, the average weekly wage was $1,292, a 6.3% increase compared to a year ago. King County factors heavily into this average, with an average weekly wage of $1,694 after a 7% jump. That’s $502 a week higher than Snohomish, the county with the second highest weekly wage.

Among the 10 largest Washington counties, Whatcom’s weekly wage ranked ninth highest, ahead of Yakima’s $809 average. Of those 10 largest counties, five had higher percentage increases than Whatcom. All five were in Western Washington.

A key factor for the wage increases in Whatcom and across Washington is the extended tight labor market, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state’s Employment Security Department. She noted that it takes some time for a low unemployment rate to start translating into wage increases

“The increase in wages observed in the most recent report is consistent with the low unemployment rate,” Vance-Sherman said in an email.

In April Whatcom’s unemployment rate was 5.1%, higher than the 4.6% in April 2018. In the past year the state estimates this area has added 1,400 nonfarm jobs, including 300 new jobs in manufacturing.

King County’s unemployment rate indicates its labor market remains very tight. In April, King County’s rate was 2.8% after spending all of 2018 at about 3.5%.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.