Colorado Springs/El Paso County wages grow at fastest rate in more than 10 years

February 22, 2017 Updated: February 22, 2017 at 7:35 pm
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A rainbow hangs in the evening sky above downtown Colorado Springs Saturday, July 6, 2013. Light afternoon showers this week have given relief to lawns all over the Pikes Peak region. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Wages earned by workers in El Paso County grew in the third quarter of 2016 at the fastest rate in more than 10 years, according to data released Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The county's average weekly wage in the July-to-September quarter jumped 6.5 percent from a year earlier to $934, matching the percentage gain in the first quarter of 2006 and more than triple the 2 percent increase in the third quarter of 2015, the department reported. The average rose 3.4 percent during the second quarter of 2016. The 6.5 percent growth rate of the third quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2006 are tied as the second highest growth rate since 2001.

Ryan Gedney, a senior economist for the department, said low unemployment rates and strong job growth were driving wage gains across Colorado. The Colorado Springs area unemployment rate fell in December to 3.3 percent, the lowest in more than 15 years, while the state's 3 percent jobless rate in December was just 0.1 percentage point above the 15-year low it set in March.

"Colorado Springs is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the state and is kind of being a(n economic) leader right now. It is all very positive," Gedney said.

Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, said the wage gains will help narrow the gap between average wages in the Springs area with the rest of the state and nation.

"It is good news overall and very consistent with our tight labor market," she said.

The county's 3.2 percent job growth from a year earlier in the third quarter remained above 3 percent for the seventh consecutive quarter and compared with 3 percent both in the second quarter of 2016 and the third quarter of 2015. That growth rate is faster than the state's 2.5 percent growth rate for the same period.

Nearly one-third of the county's job growth during the quarter came from the health care and social assistance sector, which added more than 2,600 jobs, or a 7.1 percent growth rate. The construction, hotel and restaurant, retail and education services sectors all added more than 800 jobs, compared with a year earlier, while the information sector lost nearly 700 jobs, or nearly 10 percent of its total workforce.

The job growth and wage 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 the monthly data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is based on a survey of employers. That data showed the county's job growth averaging 1.8 percent in the third quarter. The bureau completes an annual revision in March that incorporates data from the quarterly reports, which has triggered major upward revisions for the Springs area in recent years.

Gedney estimates those revisions will boost the county's 2016 job growth rate to 2.9 percent from the 2.2 percent estimate from the bureau's monthly surveys. The 2.9 percent growth rate would be down slightly from 3.2 percent in 2015 but still faster than Gedney's estimate of a 2.3 percent job growth rate for the entire state.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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