Fort Carson expansion fuels county growth in pay

December 14, 2011
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Continuing expansion at Fort Carson last year fueled nearly all of El Paso County’s growth in pay and benefits for a second consecutive year, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Total compensation per job, which includes both pay and benefits, in the county in 2010 rose 3.4 percent from a year earlier to nearly $61,000. That’s less than the 4.4 percent gain in 2009 and the smallest annual gain since 2006. Still, pay and benefits per job in the county grew significantly faster last year than the statewide and national averages — 2.3 percent for the state and 2.7 percent for the nation.

But the future may tell a different story.

“The gains in military compensation are one-time events that are not sustainable, especially with the cuts required” by 2013 under legislation passed by Congress earlier this year to raise the federal debt ceiling, said Fred Crowley, senior economist for the Southern Colorado Economic Forum.

Total compensation consists of wages and salaries, plus benefits that employers cover such as health insurance, Social Security and payments to pension plans. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that pay and benefits increased last year in nearly 80 percent of the nation’s 3,113 counties.

Private-sector compensation in the county in 2010 grew by just 0.2 percent from a year earlier, while military compensation jumped by 14.7 percent during the same period and made up nearly one-fourth of the $17.2 billion in total pay and benefits received by county residents last year. Total compensation paid to military personnel in the county has more than doubled since 2003 to nearly $4 billion, and the share of all compensation in the county received by the military has increased from 13.2 percent in 2001 to 23.2 percent last year.

“The growth in compensation in the county is mostly coming from government or industries that are largely publicly funded, including education and health care,” said Tom Binnings, a senior partner in Summit Economics, a local economic research and consulting firm.” That is a concern in the mid to long term as we will see a restructuring of the public sector” as a result of upcoming cuts to the federal budget.

The cost of benefits for employers in the county last year grew 7.1 percent from 2009, or more than twice the rate of wages and salaries, which increased 3.1 percent during the same period.

The state also benefited from Fort Carson’s expansion with military compensation surging 12.7 percent to $4.9 billion, though making up just 3.5 percent of the state’s $141.2 billion in total compensation. Military personnel in El Paso County received more than 80 percent of the statewide military compensation. Across the state, total compensation declined in the construction and airline industries as both cut jobs, but surged in the oil and gas and tourism industries as they expanded their payrolls.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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