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Trigaux: In Tampa Bay, strong job growth but still trailing on average wages

The good news in Friday's employment report is Tampa Bay's jobless rate of 4.6 percent is so low it's now entering a range economists call "full employment."

The not-so-good news is wage gains in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties still lag behind the pace of the nation's average increase in pay. Of special concern is Pinellas, whose average wage increase looks especially weak.

These wage findings come courtesy of a new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of employment data on 342 of the country's largest counties spanning from June 2014 to June 2015. Among Tampa Bay's three major counties, the BLS found jobs in Hillsborough County paid the highest average weekly wage of $922, followed by Pinellas County averaging $850 and Pasco at $718.

None of the area counties' average wages approached the national weekly average of $968.

Worse, none of the three bay area counties matched the nation's 3 percent growth rate in average pay.

Pasco came closest, with its average wage rising 2.9 percent in the June-to-June period, an indication of a more robust business base taking hold there. Hillsborough's average wage increase followed at a 2.4 percent clip.

Pinellas lagged badly. Average wages barely budged, rising just 0.6 percent. It's one more signal that the economy of Florida's highest density county is struggling to add higher-wage jobs and fuel enough expansion of the existing business base to encourage higher pay for its workers.

Compared to all 339 other counties analyzed by the BLS, where did Tampa Bay's counties land?

• Hillsborough ranked 47th in employment growth, up 3.7 percent. But it was 180th in wage growth.

• Pasco ranked 59th in employment growth, up 3.5 percent. In wage growth, it fared best among the three bay area counties, ranking 120th.

• Pinellas ranked 96th in employment growth, up 2.8 percent. But at No. 311, it was near the bottom of all counties in wage growth.

Friday's strong employment numbers reinforce Tampa Bay's (and Florida's) sharp rebound in jobs after heavy losses during the recession.

That's commendable.

But the BLS analysis delivers a painful reminder that the metro area still isn't generating the job quality necessary to close the long-standing gap between pay scale here and the nation's average weekly paycheck.

That means we're losing economic ground.

Among the 23 largest Florida counties included in the BLS analysis, Palm Beach County got closest to the national average with a weekly wage of $937. Volusia County was lowest at $713.

By wage growth, Seminole County was tops at 4 percent. In contrast, Collier County suffered an actual decline in its average weekly wage by 0.6 percent in the same period.

Lee County, home to Fort Myers, had one breakout number. The county enjoyed a 6.4 percent increase in employment, placing it No. 2 among all 342 counties. (Utah County in Utah was tops nationwide at 7.5 percent.)

And Manatee County, home to Bradenton, also performed well, ranking 10th among the 342 counties with a 4.9 percent increase in employment.

Job growth and wage growth are like yin and yang. It's hard to celebrate one without the other.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

Trigaux: In Tampa Bay, strong job growth but still trailing on average wages 12/18/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 8:48pm]
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