Washington ranks near the top in personal income growth since the recession.

Another report confirms that Washington has enjoyed a remarkably strong economy coming out of the recession a decade ago. This isn’t news, we acknowledge, but the story merits our attention. Pew reports,

The constant annual growth rate for each state’s aggregate, inflation-adjusted personal income since the fourth quarter of 2007 (when the 2007-09 recession began) to the third quarter of 2019 shows:

  • North Dakota has experienced the strongest annualized growth (3.5 percent) since the start of the recession. Its biggest gains occurred after new fracking technology led to an oil boom shortly before the Great Recession began, and more recently, growth has fluctuated with the price of oil.
  • The next-largest growth rates since late 2007 were concentrated in the West: Utah (3.3 percent), Washington (3.2 percent), Colorado and Texas (both 3 percent), California (2.8 percent), and Idaho and Oregon (both 2.7 percent).

The report clarifies what’s being measured.

Personal income sums up residents’ paychecks, Social Security benefits, employers’ contributions to retirement plans and health insurance, income from rent and other property, and benefits from public assistance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, among other items. Personal income excludes capital gains…

Growth in personal income should not be interpreted solely as wage growth; wages and salaries account for about half of U.S. personal income. Likewise, growth in total state personal income should not be seen as a measure of how much the income of average residents has changed. Other measures should be used to approximate income growth for individuals, such as state personal income per capita or household income based on different data.

Washington also saw strong PI growth in the past year.

Midwestern and Western states recorded most of the strongest gains. Those with the strongest growth over the past year include Iowa (4.6 percent), Idaho (4.3 percent), Utah (4.2 percent), South Dakota (3.9 percent), North Dakota and Washington (both 3.8 percent), Arizona and California (both 3.6 percent), Colorado (3.5 percent), and Arkansas, New Mexico, and Texas (3.3 percent).

So this Seattle Times story by Paul Roberts caught our attention.

It’s the kind of statistic that gets attention in a fast-growing region like the Seattle area: On Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that average wages and salaries in the area grew only about half as fast as the nation as a whole last year.

That’s inconsistent with yesterday’s Geek Wire story reporting that Seattle boasted the nation’s second highest metro wage growth in Q4, albeit from a different data source. As Roberts reports, the BLS numbers puzzle local economists.

Scott Bailey, a regional economist with the state Employment Security Department, says he and other state economists have been watching the BLS data closely over the last year, but haven’t seen a similar decline in either the state’s own jobs data or in other federal data related to the job market in the Seattle area.

To the contrary, state data shows that the average wage in the Seattle area — which the BLS defines as King, Snohomish, Pierce, Island, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Skagit, Snohomish and Thurston counties — was $81,564 in the third quarter of 2019, the latest period available, or 7.6% higher than the same quarter in 2018, Bailey said.


Plus, the region added lots of jobs in high-wage sectors, such as software and information services, which would tend to push up wages, Bailey said. He suggested that the BLS data “should be viewed with caution.”

Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, agrees.

The BLS numbers “just don’t jibe” with the region’s tight labor market, he said, or with what he is hearing from local employers, many of which have spent the last several months facing workers who are saying “give me a pay raise or I’m going somewhere else.”