An interesting snapshot of Tooele County’s economy and citizens’ wage earnings was published on the front page of Thursday’s edition. If there’s a bottom line to it all, it could be this: According to the numbers, we’re doing better, but we have a ways to go.
In the story, “Average wage in Tooele County improves but still lags behind state,” latest statistics from the Utah Department of Workforce Services show the average gross monthly wage for a citizen working in the county was $3,335 during the fourth quarter of 2017.
Depending on one’s perspective, that average wage may seem like a lot or too little. But according to the DWS, that gross monthly wage is 12.5 percent below the state average of $3,810 for the last quarter of 2017.
However, although the average wage in the county was below the state average at the end of 2017, it had increased 1.7 percent, from $3,280 during the last quarter of 2016 to $3,335.
Unfortunately, what’s driven the slight wage increase is not necessarily the result of more better paying jobs becoming locally available. Instead, it’s the area’s continuing low unemployment rate of below 3.5 percent, according to Cathy Stromberg, branch manager for Intermountain Staffing’s Tooele office.
Stromberg said because of the low unemployment rate, there are more job openings than workers to fill those openings. As a result, some businesses have raised their pay to attract quality workers, she said.
Of profound interest, in recent years the county’s average monthly wage hasn’t always lagged behind the state. As Thursday’s story reported, after the Great Recession of 2008, the county’s average monthly wage grew faster than the state’s. In the fourth quarter of 2013, the county’s average was $3,638 while the state’s was over $200 less at $3,421.
According to the DWS, the county’s average monthly wage began to drop in 2013 and fell behind the state average in 2015 — where it has remained. The DWS claims the county’s decrease in average monthly wage is linked to the closure of the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility at Tooele Army Depot South Area.
The last round of chemical munitions at the plant was incinerated in January 2012 and the facility was dismantled and closed a few years later.
All of which indicates the U.S. Military paid workers well at the disposal facility. The county has recovered in terms of local job availability since the plant’s closure, but not when it comes to average monthly wage, which was $303 more six years ago.
For local officials who are engaged in the process of economic development for the greater good of Tooele County and its citizens, that $303 difference should serve as an inspirational level for which to attain — and exceed.
With a projected 46 percent of the county’s available workforce driving east every day to earn a paycheck, local officials have a lot of work to do to lure new business and industry here that just doesn’t provide more jobs, but also pays more.