High-paying jobs, minimum-wage jobs up in '09

The Bellingham Business Journal

While the state was shedding thousands of jobs in late 2008 and early 2009, high-paying and minimum-wage jobs, and the median wage all increased, according to a new report released May 3 by the state Employment Security Department.

The median hourly wage increased to $20.80 per hour the first quarter of 2009, up from $20.01 in the third quarter of 2008. According to the report, the increase was caused mostly by the large number of low-paying jobs that were lost during the recession – while the number of high-wage jobs actually grew.

Jobs paying more than $50 per hour increased 6 percent from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009. This finding backs up national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show some segments of workers were far less affected by the recession – particularly those with a college degree. The national unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher is about 5 percent, while the national unemployment rate has hovered around 10 percent.

About one in five minimum-wage jobs was cut as the state slid into recession in 2008, then the number grew sharply again in 2009. The gain was likely a result of the minimum wage increasing in January 2009, when jobs that formerly paid just above the minimum moved into the minimum-wage category.

Minimum-wage jobs in 2009 accounted for 3.1 percent of total employment, the highest since Employment Security began tracking in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, minimum-wage jobs averaged about 1 percent of total employment.

The minimum wage was $8.55 per hour in 2009, and remains the same in 2010. That’s because a voter initiative in 1998 tied it to the inflation rate, and costs did not rise last year.

Three industries (agriculture, retail trade, and accommodation and food services) accounted for 74 percent of all minimum-wage jobs in 2009. These sectors are more prevalent in eastern Washington, which contributes to minimum-wage jobs comprising more of the total jobs east of the Cascades (4.7 percent) than west of the Cascades (2.7 percent).

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