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Florida wages still lag national average — but they are getting closer

Tampa Bay weekly paychecks are rising faster than they are nationally. But they are still lower than the U.S. average wage in 344 large counties across the country.

On the bright side, weekly average wages in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties all increased faster than the nation's 2.2 percent gain in wages for the second quarter of this year compared to the same period of 2015. Hillsborough average weekly wages of $950 topped those in Pinellas ($876) and were more than $200 a week higher than the weekly average of $734 in Pasco.

But every single one of Florida's 24 biggest counties, including state wage leader Palm Beach County ($963), still lag behind the national weekly average wage of $989. So say the findings on wage data released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Put another way, Hillsborough's wage is 4 percent behind the U.S. average, while Pinellas trails by 11.4 percent.

Pasco wages, behind the U.S. average by nearly 26 percent, clearly have some catching up to pursue.

It's an all too familiar story. Trailing wages have historically been an Achilles' heel for the state, where talent often chooses to go elsewhere for a bigger paycheck and the perception of greater career opportunity. The Tampa Bay metro is trying to counter that image, but it will take time. And, frankly, it will require concrete proof that young people can launch quality careers here that make them as skill-competitive as anywhere else.

That's a task in progress.

What about Florida's "cheaper" cost of living?

Yes, the lack of state income tax is a big mitigating factor in Florida's cost of living favor. So are cheaper housing prices, though the sharp rebound in Florida home prices is dimming that argument.

While Florida wages still lag the national average, they are sneaking closer. Wage gains in all three larger Tampa Bay counties grew faster than the national 2.2 percent average between the quarters ending June 2015 and June 2016. Marion County, home to Ocala, saw its average weekly wage of $718 rise 5.4 percent, followed by Polk's $763 wage boosted 4.3 percent among Florida's larger counties.

The smallest wage gain occurred in Sarasota County, up just 0.5 percent.

None of the state's 24 largest counties saw wages drop in the second quarter from a year ago.

Not all of the states housing the 344 largest U.S. counties in the BLS analysis can say that. Employment fell in 46 of the largest counties.

Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.