ST. GEORGE — Most of Southern Utah continues to steam ahead with high job growth and low unemployment, but even as growth continues, wages fall below the state average.
As a whole, Utah’s job growth once again tops the nation, according to latest year-over-year data released by the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Overall nonfarm job growth was 3.7 percent in August, well above the U.S. average of 1.7 percent.
“Utah’s labor market continues to perform at an optimal level with the addition of almost 55,000 jobs over the last year,” said Carrie Mayne, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Services. “The state’s labor force continues to grow and is quickly absorbed into the employment rolls by Utah’s expanding businesses.”
See Mayne outline which industries are growing fastest in the video top of this report.
In southwest Utah, Washington County almost doubles the state average’s job growth at 7.1 percent, with about 4,500 jobs added to the economy since August 2017. Iron County also continues to add jobs at a high pace, standing at 5 percent growth with nearly 1,000 jobs added in the last year.
In the rest of the state’s southwest region, Kane and Beaver counties also saw growth in the same period, with only Garfield County showing virtually neutral growth.
Unemployment in Utah stands at 3.1 percent as of August, the 13th lowest in the country. The unemployment rates in Washington and Iron counties stand at 3.6 and 3.8 percent, respectively.
According to the latest data available from the Department of Workforce Services in 2016, Utah’s average household income was $65,931. The county with the highest average household income was in Summit County at $94,540, where high-end resort towns abound.
Of Utah’s 10 counties with the lowest average household income, eight fall within the state’s southernmost region, including Iron County – the 4th lowest – at $45,581. Washington County was a bit higher at $54,784 but still more than $11,000 under the state average.
While Iron County has lower wages on average, people living in the Cedar City area also have a lower cost of living, paying about 14 percent less than the national average for monthly living expenses, according to 2016 data from the Department of Workforce Services.
The same can’t be said for people living in St. George, where the cost of living is only 2 percent lower than the national average. This is compounded by the increasing cost of new residential real estate, which rose 8.6 percent from 2016-2018 in Washington County, according to the University of Utah Ivory-Boyer Real Estate Center’s “Second Quarter 2018 Construction Report.”
According to a report by Senior Economist Lecia Langston of the Department of Workforce Services’ St. George office, the average Washington County wage in 2016 measured just 76 percent of the state average.
“The contrast between Salt Lake County and Washington County wages is even more dire,” Langston wrote. “Washington’s average wage measures 67 percent of that of Salt Lake County.
“The average monthly new hire wage in Salt Lake County for 2016 measured $2,600 compared to less than $1,900 in Washington County. It is unlikely that most workers come out ahead monetarily by making a job move to Washington County.”
In a previous St. George News story, Langston said low average wages is a specific reason companies are attracted to doing business in Washington County.
On the state and local level, some government leaders in Southern Utah are working to change this by offering tax incentives to companies that can demonstrate that they offer average wages and benefit packages that are higher than county averages.
These tax breaks in turn create more competition for other employers to also step up their salary and benefit offerings, state Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-District 74 of Southern Utah, said in a previous interview with St. George News.
In April, the St. George City Council approved a 10-year tax agreement with St. George-based Ram Manufacturing Company to incentivize creation of new jobs.
Ram Company currently employs hundreds of people with average annual wages and benefit packages that are more than 50 percent higher than the Washington County average, and the tax incentive will remain in place as long as the company maintains the competitive employment packages.
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