Overall Average Annual Wage – Growth in Walla Walla County outpaces state

by Scott Richter and Dr. Patrick Jones

Much of the average day in the average American’s life is consumed by the earning of wages. It is not uncommon for people working a regular 40-hour week to be around their co-workers more than their own families.

People also dedicate years of their lives and even go deep into debt to somehow ensure their ability to earn a good wage by going to college. But types of jobs and the wages they pay are not equally distributed across the U.S. The same is true for both the cost of living and the quality of life.

According to PayScale, salaried workers in New York City average $77,000 annually and workers paid-by-the-hour average $20.90. Yet, cost of living is almost 130% more than the U.S. average and wage growth lags far behind the increasing costs for housing, utilities, and groceries. New York City is also where the median home price is $1.63 million and median monthly rent is just north of $5,000.

In our state, salaried workers in Seattle average $80,000 annually and workers paid-by-the-hour average $22.89. The cost of living is almost 50% more than the U.S. average, while wage growth lags increasing costs for housing, utilities, and groceries. Median home price is $673,874 and median monthly rent is $2,111.

Compared to big cities, the Walla Walla Metro Statistical Area (MSA), encompassing Walla Walla & Columbia Counties is literally a completely different world for people who call the area home. Financially, for just Walla Walla County was $296,600 during the second quarter of 2020, and fair market rent for 1-bedrooms was $735, and $972 for 2-bedrooms. The overall cost of living in Walla Walla County is below the national average, as well as below other MSA’s in Washington State.

Looking at Indicator 1.1.4 Overall Average Annual Wage on Walla Walla Trends, we certainly see a difference in the county and state overall average annual wage. This is first due to demand for different workers areas across the state and in Walla Walla. Quite simply, demand for workers in the highest paying fields are not evenly distributed across the nation or state.

Getting into a more detailed explanation of what these data measure, it does not include salaries claimed by:

  • self-employed.
  • members of the military.
  • students who both live and work on-campus.
  • Native Americans working on reservations.

Nominal dollar values represent the dollar value at a particular time. For example, the nominal average annual wage during 2000 in the county was $25,996 and $37,101 in the state.

What does this mean? Looking at 2019, the most recent data available, we see both nominal and 2019-dollar values are identical, at $46,219 in Walla Walla County and $69,615 in the state. Moving backward in time, the nominal average wage shows the actual earnings of an area during a given year. This dollar amount can be looked upon as the average income submitted to the Internal Revenue Service by workers in a given area at an average paying job.  

The result is two different trend lines for the same measure with one influenced by inflation (nominal values) and not the other (constant 2019-dollar value). For Walla Walla, one (the nominal rate) shows an upward trend over time; the other (inflation-adjusted) shows a much flatter line. In fact, in inflation-adjusted terms, the average annual wage has grown very little over the past two decades: from approximately $40,000 to approximately $46,000. By way of contrast, Washington’s average annual wage, inflation-adjusted, moved from about $57,000 to nearly $70,000. Since 2010 Washington average wages have grown by 43% cumulatively while those in Walla Walla have climbed less, by 29%.

Compared to other places in the state, such as the huge manufacturing and technology sectors along the I-5 corridor, Walla Walla County is obviously different. It is more than the absence of aerospace manufacturing and technology here. Instead, Walla Walla County’s mix of jobs, as the accompanying article in the newsletter explores, is heavily weighted to government, healthcare, and agriculture.

So, while growth of the overall average annual wage might not be occurring locally at the same pace as in the state, the cost of living in the Walla Walla metro area (Walla Walla & Columbia Counties combined) than some neighboring metro areas. Ultimately, it might come down to the perfect balance of perhaps earning a little less, but offering a desired lifestyle.