1. Business

Better pay? Where? Bay area wages are not keeping up

So where are all those better paying jobs? We covet them in Tampa Bay but can't seem to get enough to stay competitive, leaving more and more area workers lacking the same opportunities they had prior to the recession.

Some of us are even going backward.

Among 334 larger counties in the nation, Pinellas County registered the biggest annual decline in weekly wages — down 4.3 percent to $802 — from September 2012 to September 2013. So says the Bureau of Labor Statistics about its most recently available numbers.

While other local counties did not record wage declines like Pinellas, their puny increases offer little to cheer about.

Among larger metropolitan areas nationwide, Tampa Bay ranks among the 10 with the lowest average increase in wages and salaries from 2009 to 2012. In 2009, Tampa Bay wages averaged $40,590. By 2012, they averaged $42,230, an increase of just $1,640, say BLS data.

Only seven larger metro areas, led by Detroit, reported a smaller gain in those years.

Granted, this is hardly the economic news you would hope to hear. Our unemployment rate is pretty low. We just wrapped up the fun weekend with Bollywood. We keep hearing bits of news of more companies expanding here with better than average wages.

So far, that's not adding up to enough to raise overall wages. And when more people earn less, they spend less. It can become a vicious cycle.

Much of the country feels similar financial stress.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project in New York finds U.S. job growth remains concentrated in lower-wage industries. The number of workers making less than $13 an hour now exceeds prerecession levels by almost 1.9 million.

More jobs is a good thing, right? Sure, but there are nearly 2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were before the recession.

To put this another way, higher-wage jobs constituted 41 percent of recession losses, but only 30 percent of the recovery.

Lower-wage work is concentrated in administrative and support services, food services, retail and tourism — our specialty — which pay median wages below $13 an hour.

"The picture is starkly different from the recovery following the 2001 recession, when lower- and higher-wage industries accounted for a near-equal share of job growth," the Law Project report says.

When I visit area businesses, I ask how they are doing as the economy improves.

Too often, they don't offer an answer but a question: Is it really getting better?

Not if Tampa Bay's wages are stalled or falling behind.

Contact Robert Trigaux at