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There’s been an increase in average wages in Whatcom. What’s causing it?

Roofers put shingles on a house in Bellingham. At the end of June Whatcom County had an estimated 1,300 more construction jobs than a year ago.
Roofers put shingles on a house in Bellingham. At the end of June Whatcom County had an estimated 1,300 more construction jobs than a year ago. The Bellingham Herald file

Whatcom County’s average wage jumped last spring, but it probably has more to do with newly created jobs than pay raises.

The average weekly wage in Whatcom County was $860 during the second quarter, a 6.8 percent increase compared to a year ago, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s the 12th highest jump among 347 counties – and nearly all of Washington’s 10 largest counties. The U.S. average increase was 3.2 percent, according to the data.

Whatcom’s average weekly wage continues to rank ninth highest out of the 10 largest counties in the state, but is close to matching Spokane ($868). King County continues to have the highest wage, at $1,472 a week, while Snohomish is at $1,106.

This is the second-straight quarter Whatcom County experienced a strong year-over-year increase. During the first quarter, Whatcom wages rose 7 percent.

The type of job openings last spring made a difference in the average wages, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state.

At the end of June Whatcom County had an estimated 1,300 more construction jobs than a year ago, as well as 400 more professional services jobs. Both of those industries tend to pay a higher-than-average wage.

At the same time there was a decline in leisure/hospitality jobs, an industry that tends to pay lower wages.

“When the share of high-wage work increases relative to the share of low-wage work, overall wage increases will show up in the aggregated data,” Vance-Sherman said.

While the unemployment rate in Whatcom County was low last spring, it was not at a point that it would put more pressure on wages than other counties in the region, added Hart Hodges, director at Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research.

“Mostly, wage growth has been lagging in our area for a while, so it’s nice to see some solid wage growth for a couple of quarters in a row,” Hodges said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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