Here’s another data set that shows why it doesn’t feel like an economic recovery to many workers: The U.S. average weekly wage in the third quarter last year was down 1.1 percent from a year earlier.
According to the most recent county-level figures released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in Jackson, Johnson, Wyandotte and Clay counties had average weekly wage declines from September 2011 to September 2012.
Along with 270 other large U.S. counties included in the report, the four Kansas City area counties each had over-the-year average wage declines.
“Those are telling statistics that unfortunately reflect reality,” said Jeff Pinkerton, economist at the Mid America Regional Council. “Jobs are coming back, but many of them at lower wages than people had before, and much of the new job creation is in lower-paying sectors like food preparation and retail, not like the manufacturing and professional jobs that were lost.”
Employment in Johnson County, for example, grew 2.3 percent in the September-to-September period, but the average weekly wage fell 1.8 percent.
Similarly, employment in Wyandotte County grew 2.9 percent, but average weekly wages fell 1.6 percent, and employment in Jackson County rose 1.5 percent while the wage average dropped 1.7 percent.
The report painted a different economic picture for Clay County. It charted an employment decline of 0.8 percent, along with an average wage decline of 2.2 percent.
“Economists have long been talking about a baseline shift, a real shift, in the workplace,” Pinkerton said. “Coming back from the recession, the nation is creating fewer jobs or different jobs or requiring fewer people to do the existing jobs.
“The bottom line is that if you don’t want to do the job, someone else will, and that helps depress wages further.”
The labor bureau said this September-to-September report was only the sixth time since it started the data series in 1978 that it found over-the-year average weekly wage declines.
Over the most recent 12-month study, national employment grew 1.6 percent — a contrast to the 1.1 percent drop in average weekly wages.
“Average weekly wages declined in every industry except for information, in which wages increased by 1.3 percent,” the labor bureau said.
It found widespread wage declines across the states, with the notable exception of North Dakota, where workers are benefiting from an oil boom.
The bureau studied 328 of the largest U.S. counties and found an average wage decline in the majority despite net growth.
For the nation as a whole, the average weekly wage was $906 in September 2012, which represented the 1.1 percent drop from a year earlier.
The report published these average weekly wages for the Kansas City area counties: Johnson, $917; Wyandotte, $854; Jackson, $914; and Clay, $804.
Other Kansas City area counties did not rank among the nation’s largest counties included in the report.