Personal income is on the rise in Whatcom, but it is not all good news

File photo of cash
File photo of cash McClatchy file

Personal income was on the rise in Whatcom County last year, but at a slower rate than much of the state.

The average annual personal income in 2016 for a Whatcom County resident was $44,273, a 2.2 percent increase compared to the year before, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Personal income is income received by all persons from all sources. Wages play a major role, but other sources include rental income, stocks dividends and Social Security benefits.

The 2.2 percent increase ranked 28th highest out of the 39 counties in Washington state. Nearby Skagit County had a 3.6 percent increase in personal income, rising to $46,565.

It’s a similar trend if you focus just on wages, according to Washington Employment Security Department data released earlier this year. The 2016 average annual wage for Whatcom County workers was $43,233, a 1.8 percent increase in the past year. Skagit’s average annual wage was $44,191, a 2.4 percent increase.

Wage growth in Whatcom County has been frustratingly slow over the course of this recovery cycle, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state. With the Whatcom County unemployment rate at 4.5 percent in September, the labor market has shifted from one that favors employers to one that favors job seekers.

“In practice, this should have a positive effect on wage growth, as employers are in a position to compete for workers,” Vance-Sherman said in an email.

One thing to keep in mind for places like Whatcom and Skagit counties is that one large company can have a significant impact on wages, said Hart Hodges, co-director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.

In the first part of 2016, for example, Alcoa’s Intalco aluminum smelter near Ferndale was in the process of shutting down before a power deal amendment saved the facility.

“We may see relatively more growth in income in 2017 with the rebound of Alcoa,” Hodges said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz