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Average Wage per Job

November 06, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Although new figures show Washington County fares poorly in per capita income, it ranks better in job pay rates.

In the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis' latest report on per capita income, Washington County ranked 19th out of 24 jurisdictions in the state at $20,800 a year in 1997. Frederick County ranked seventh, at $26,270.

Per capita income represents all income - including that derived from stocks and other investments and government transfer payments such as Social Security - divided by the number of residents.

By another economic yardstick, Washington County's average wage per job was $25,201 a year - 12th in the state. Frederick County ranked 11th at $26,194.

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The average-wage-per-job figure measures only job pay rates and job income.

A primary reason for the disparity in rankings is that workers in some counties - including Frederick - are closer to higher-paying companies in the Washington and Baltimore suburbs. Per capita income takes into account the pay of residents who work outside the county.

A Frederick County resident who makes $100,000 a year at a job in Washington drives up the county's per capita income, but not its average wage per job. Consequently, per capita income is a better measure of a county's wealth, said Wallace Bailey, an economist with the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Mixed signs

Despite the poor per capita showing, "We're doing better than a lot of people might think," said Thomas B. Riford, marketing director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Riford said if you take into account Washington County's lower cost of living, it makes the the average wage per job "an even better statistic."

However, there are signs Washington County is losing ground. Between 1987 and 1997, the average wage per job in the county grew by 37.8 percent, a lower percentage increase than in all but two Tri-State area counties.

The county also failed to keep up with the state and national rates.

The largest percentage increase in average wage per job was in Fulton County, Pa., which jumped 65 percent, from $15,573 to $25,689.

Margaret Taylor, executive director of the Fulton Industrial Development Association, attributed the increase to the expansion of high-paying jobs at companies such as JLG Industries, H.B. Mellott Estates and Mellott Enterprises.

"You're seeing a significant increase in manufacturing jobs over the last 10 years," she said. "For a 100 percent rural county, which Fulton County is, to see this kind of increase is incredible."

The commuter effect

One place where the gap between residents' incomes and local wages is greatest is West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties all ranked significantly better in the state in per capita income than average wage per job.

"For one thing, people work out of the state (where) the pay scales are much higher," said Barbara Henderson, an employer relations representative in the Martinsburg office of the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Services. "That would be particularly true in Jefferson County,"

Jefferson County's per capita income in 1997 was more than $2,000 higher than its average wage per job.

"We're having people from the city moving in all the time," Henderson said. "And they work in the city. They're bringing their higher wages with them."

According to the 1990 census, about 35 percent of Jefferson County residents who worked outside the county commuted to Washington, D.C., and its two richest suburbs, Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va.

In many ways, however, it is preferable to have more people commuting into a county than out of it, local business leaders said.

"Typically, what you don't want is a lot people who live here and treat this as a bedroom community for Washington, D.C.," said Fred K. Teeter Jr., president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

"That drives up the infrastructure costs," he said. "Soon, what you end up with is Carroll County, which has the highest property tax rate in the Baltimore metropolitan area."

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