EYE ON THE PIE: Where are the best-paying jobs?

February 5, 2007

Where is the best place to work if all you consider is money? Where are the wages and salaries plus benefits paid by employers the highest? We have data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that help us answer the question. The data refer to 2005, the latest year available, and do not include self-employment; thus, only jobs working for someone else are counted. And remember, these data are by place of work, not place of residence.

Where are the best-paying jobs? The answer is, as it has been for some time, the District of Columbia. Yes, go east young man and young woman. Become an attorney, lobbyist or association executive in our nation's capital if you want the big bucks.

In 2005, the latest year for which we have data, the average job in Washington, D.C., paid $84,120, or 69-percent more than the national average of $49,775. But we can all agree that Washington is a special place, so let's leave it out of our considerations from here on.

In 2005, the highest-paying jobs were in the northeastern part of the nation. Connecticut ranked first among the states at $62,379, followed by New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Indiana was down in 28th place at $44,095, or 11.4 percent below the national average.

Indiana's rate of growth did exceed the nation's pace. We grew by an average annual rate of 3.96 percent (32nd among the states) compared to the nation's 3.88 percent. That paltry difference is not enough reason to hold a party or let the kids off from school for a day.

Yes, we know the story about the auto industry, manufacturing, outsourcing and a host of other legitimate reasons for our lagging performance. However, this mediocre or worse growth has been going on since the late 1970s and there seems to be no end to it. Patience, we are told. It takes time to turn around a big ship on the open seas. But clichés and metaphors do not offset our continued distress as a state.

Where are the highest-paying jobs in Indiana? Surprise, they are in Martin County. Yes, in south-central Indiana, where Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center is located, are the best-compensated jobs, averaging $70,645, 60-percent above the state level. Part of the reason is that Loogootee, Shoals and Oden have few jobs to drag down the average for the high-paying engineering and technical workers at Crane.

Does the fact that Martin County leads the state in average compensation negate the argument for a better road (Interstate 69) to that remote area? I think not. Similarly, the fact that Howard County (Kokomo) ranks second in compensation per job does not invalidate the need for an improved U.S. 31.

Gibson County, home to Toyota, had the fastest rate of growth in compensation per job from 2001 to 2005, advancing an average of 8.8 percent a year. Old industrial centers east of Indianapolis (Henry, Fayette and Madison counties) were at the bottom of the growth list.

Fast growth and high wages do not necessarily go together. For example, Hamilton County ranked fourth in level of compensation per job in 2001, but came in with a growth rate of just 2 percent (89th of the 92 counties) and fell to sixth place by 2005.

All this probably seems like the same old story: Indiana's economic performance is mediocre relative to the nation. For all our self-promotion and self-congratulation for seeing our Colts battle the Bears, our economy is still not a source of pride.

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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