A tight labor market is bringing bigger paychecks for El Paso County workers.
Wages paid to workers in El Paso County in the four quarters that ended Sept. 30 rose 4.7% from a year earlier to $1,005 a week. That’s the biggest gain for a similar period in 20 years, according to data released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Wages have been surging in the county and statewide amid historically low unemployment. Colorado’s jobless rate at the end of last year was 2.5%, the lowest since such U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics records began in 1976. The Colorado Springs area rate at the end of the year was 3.1%, just 0.2 percentage points higher than the lowest rate in the agency’s records dating to 1990.
“There is no doubt that we are seeing upward pressure on wages both in El Paso County and statewide. That’s no surprise because both have been in an extremely tight labor market for three years,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
“We are seeing wages increasing across the board from the lower end, from the increase in the minimum wage (from $10.20 to $11.10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019), to the higher end, in order to remain competitive (for workers).”
The biggest gains came in two small categories — management of private companies, up 25.2% to $2,710 a week, and information, up 14.5% to $1,548 a week. Among categories with more than 10,000 workers, wages in finance and insurance rose 6.8% to $1,316 a week and wages in the hotel and restaurant industry increased 6.5% to $428 a week.
Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, said the county’s wage growth in the past year has helped it move closer to the national average. The county’s average wage in the third quarter of last year, $1,001 a week, was 8.4% below the national average. But that’s an improvement from 11% below the average in the previous quarter.
Boulder County had the nation’s biggest increase in average wages during the third quarter, 18.4% to $1,547 a week, or more than triple the 4.6% gain in El Paso County during the same period, which ranked 60th nationwide. Weld County, which includes Greeley and where wages are pushed up by the energy industry, had the eighth-fastest-growing average wage at 7.5% to $1,052 a week.
El Paso County’s wage growth came as employment rose at the fastest level in nearly two years, adding 7,417 jobs in the third quarter from the same period a year earlier, or a 2.7% growth rate. Nearly half the jobs were added by the health and social assistance sector, 2,012, and the business and professional services sector, 1,217. Retailing suffered the most losses, 544, and is now smaller than the hotel and restaurant sector.
Adams County had the nation’s second-fastest job growth in the third quarter, compared with a year earlier, at 5.3%, just behind New Hanover County, N.C.