Wage gauge reads low

Of all the indicators that offer insights into the economy, few illicit as much interest as wages. Understandably so. Wages constitute the largest collective expense for most businesses. Moreover, people just naturally want to know how their own paychecks compare with what others take home elsewhere.

So what do the latest numbers have to say about wages in Mesa County? They remain well below state and national averages. According to the latest, albeit year-old, estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2012, workers in Mesa County earned an average hourly wage of $19.51. That’s 11 percent below the nationwide average of $22.01. According to separate statistics for July 2013 compiled by Economic Modeling Specialists International, average annual earnings of $41,416 remained 19 percent below state and national averages.

Now we know how much Mesa County wages lag behind other areas of Colorado and the United States. Why? It’s a question easier asked than answered. Many factors likely are involved: the comparatively higher unemployment rate and resulting imbalance between labor supply and demand, a local economy comprised mostly of small businesses that tend to pay less than larger corporations, a higher concentration of occupational sectors that offer lower wages.

Like other indicators, though, average wages change. As economic conditions improve and labor demand increases, so will wages. Remember what it was like in the energy boom that preceded the bust? The labor pool had become so shallow fast-food restaurants were paying bonuses to new hires.

A more fundamental shift will be needed to bring to effect more permanent change, however. And that’s a broader base of manufacturers and other companies that pay higher wages.