Wages in El Paso County during the past two years posted the biggest gains since the recession as employers had to boost pay to keep or attract employees, new data released Wednesday show.
The 3.2% increase last year and 3.6% in 2017 were the biggest back-to-back annual gains since wages grew 3.6% in 2007 and 3.3% in 2008, according to quarterly and annual employment and wage data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The average weekly wage for the county rose $30 to $971 in 2018.
“This parallels the tight labor market; employers have to raise wages to fill vacancies,” said Ryan Gedney, the department’s senior economist. “I don’t see any reason that growth can’t continue this year.”
The wage gains were even more impressive in the fourth quarter — 4.7% from a year earlier.
Those gains were widespread with six sectors — accommodation and food services, administrative and waste services, finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, professional and technical services as well as real estate rental and leasing — posting year-over-year increases of more than 6%. Manufacturing posted the only decline — 0.6% during the same period.
The wage gains came as the county’s job growth slowed for a third consecutive year to the slowest rate since 2012 — 2.1%, or 5,570 jobs. The growth rate was slightly slower in the fourth quarter at 2%, the slowest since the third quarter of 2017, which Gedney said likely was the result of employers struggling to fill openings.
More than 60 percent of the fourth-quarter job growth was generated by the professional and technical services sector, which includes many defense contractors, as well as health care and social assistance.
The two biggest sectors shedding jobs were administrative and waste services — reflecting four major center closings last year — and retail trade, reflecting many retailers shutting down as consumers shift to online buying.
The job growth numbers are compiled from unemployment insurance reports that most employers must file every three months. They 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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