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Wages in El Paso County surge to biggest since 2001

August 23, 2017 Updated: August 23, 2017 at 7:51 pm
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Wage growth in El Paso County surged to the biggest gain since at least 2001 in the first quarter, even as employment growth slowed, at least in part because of a voter-approved increase in Colorado's minimum wage.

The 8.1 percent jump from the first quarter of 2016 to $948 a week is the largest on record with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment since at least 2001. The biggest increase during that 16-year period was an 8.05-percent gain in the first quarter of 2001. Wage gains came in every category but unclassified, which includes just 65 workers whose wages fell by 18.9 percent from a year earlier. Managers of companies and enterprises had the biggest gain during the 12-month period, nearly 40 percent, followed by utilities workers at 19.5 percent.

Ryan Gedney, a senior economist with the department, attributed much of the increase both in El Paso County and statewide to Amendment 70, which raised the state's minimum wage on Jan. 1 from $8.31 to $9.30 an hour, an 11.9 percent increase. The department estimated last year that about 250,000 of the state's 2.5 million workers would get raises as a result of the voter-approved amendment, which also hiked the minimum for tipped workers by 19 percent. Statewide, the average weekly wage rose 7.5 percent from a year earlier to $1,136 - the biggest increase in 11 years.

"We also may be seeing upward pressure on wages" as a result of the state's tight labor market with Colorado's unemployment rate averaging 2.8 percent during the first three months of the year," Gedney said. "There is only so much labor available - it is a national problem - businesses just can't fill openings as easily as they had in 2014-15."

Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, called surging wages "really good, fantastic news. Wages have been sticky both locally and nationwide, not increasing very much. It looks like we are making up for lost time, increasing at triple the national rate."

The wages gains come as employment in the first quarter grew at the slowest rate in two years, 2.75 percent from the same quarter last year. Local job growth had increased by 3 percent or more for seven consecutive quarters before slowing to a 2.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter of 2016. Nearly two-thirds of the increase came from the health care, construction, hotel and restaurant industries, which each grew by at least 4 percent during the past 12 months. The information, retailing and manufacturing sectors all shed at least 100 jobs during the same period.

The wage and job growth numbers are compiled from unemployment insurance reports that most employers must file every three months and are a more accurate measure of the county's job market than monthly data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is based on surveys of employers.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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