Report: Salt Lake City wages still trail U.S. averages

Jobs • Lower cost of living, young population key factors in lower compensation.
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It's no secret Utah wages in most cases are less than elsewhere in the U.S.— even though the state's economy outshines the rest of the country.

The mean hourly wage in Salt Lake City was $21.51 across all occupational groups last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That was 2 percent less than the U.S. midpoint of $22.01 an hour. The annual mean wage — midway between the top and bottom wages — was $44,730. A year earlier, it was $43,680.

"Two reasons tend to explain the general trend. First is our lower cost of living, which is pretty self-explanatory," said Carrie Mayne, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The second reason has to do with age. At 29.2 years, Utah has the lowest median age of any state in the country. The state's median age is a full nine years less than the U.S. median of 37.2, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that gap hurts Utah workers, Mayne said.

"Because the average age in Utah is so low, we tend to have workers in our labor force who have less tenure in the labor force, which translates to lower wages," she said.

There was plenty of variation within 22 major occupational groups tracked by the Labor Department. Wages in Salt Lake City were significantly higher than national averages in five groups. Many jobs inside those groups, however, typically don't command high wages.

• Farming, fishing and forestry, $14.56 an hour, 25 percent above the U.S. mean wage.

• Sales-related occupations, $19.98, 9 percent above.

• Transportation and material-moving jobs, $17.58, 9 percent above.

• Personal care and service, $12.49, 6 percent above.

• Installation, maintenance and repair, $21.66, 3 percent above.

Another 13 groups had significantly lower wages, including several professional groups.

• Architecture and engineering, $35.11, 8 percent below the U.S. mean.

• Business and financial operations, $30.49, 8 percent below.

• Management, $48.25, 8 percent below.

• Computer and mathematical occupations, $34.12, 11 percent below.

• Life, physical and social science jobs, $28.14, 14 percent below.

Mayne wasn't sure why jobs in those professional groups would be paid less than their U.S. counterparts, especially since Salt Lake City has a bigger share of jobs in most of the groups, with the exception of management and life, physical and social science jobs.

"My educated guess would be the age factor [again]," she said. "In any one of those occupations, we are likely to have many more individuals doing those jobs who don't have a lot of experience under their belts than many other states in the nation."

Salt Lake City has a greater share of computer and mathematical positions (3.4 percent of total employment vs. 2.7 percent in the U.S.); business and financial operations jobs (5.3 percent vs. 4.9 percent); and architecture and engineering ( 2.2 percent vs. 1.8 percent).

Management jobs represent 4.9 percent of Salt Lake City and U.S. employment. Life, physical and social science occupations total 0.8 percent of local and U.S. jobs.

Twitter: @sltribpaul