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$738 weekly salary ranks state at 47th

by David Smith | July 13, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.

— None of Arkansas’ 75 counties had an average weekly wage last year above the national average of $971, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Tuesday.

The bureau released the information in its quarterly report on county employment and wages in Arkansas. The statistics are for the fourth quarter of last year.

The average weekly wage for Arkansas was $738, the 47th-highest in the country and up 1.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2009.

The highest average weekly wage was $885 in Calhoun County, home of Highland Industrial Park in East Camden. The park includes defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Airjet General, General Dynamics and Raytheon Missile Systems.

Pulaski County was second with an average weekly wage of $872. Little River County, home to a large Domtar Corp. paper mill, was third with an average weekly wage of $860.

Six counties had average weekly wages of $800 to $885, seven had average wages of $700-$799, 28 had wages averaging $600-$699, 26 had average wages of $500-$599 and eight had wages below $500.

Newton County had the lowest average weekly wage of $436.

“Our high-wage counties tend to be in the biggest metropolitan areas,” said Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “They also tend to have populations with the highest degree of education in the state.”

Arkansas’ low wages weren’t surprising since its personal income ranks 46th in the country, said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Employment in Arkansas increased a half-percentage point in the fourth quarter last year compared with the corresponding period in 2009. National employment climbed 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

Employment also was up in Arkansas’ three largest counties, led by Benton County with a 2.0 percent increase. Washington County’s employment grew 1.7 percent. Pulaski County’s employment was up 0.2 percent.

The state’s three largest counties accounted for 37.6 percent of the state’s total employment, the federal agency said.

“Arkansas is known to be a low-income state and a low cost-of-living state,” Pakko said.

Arkansas’ cost of living ranks among the 10 lowest in the country, Pakko said.

Even with that, a low-cost-of-living ranking doesn’t help Arkansans in some areas, Deck said.

“Cost of living definitely matters when you look at housing and other areas,” Deck said. “But we compete in a global economy and cost of living doesn’t help in some areas, like gasoline prices.”

The fastest growth in employment last year was 7.6 percent in Miller County compared with 2009.

Ten of the 15 counties with employment growth exceeding 2.25 percent were in the northern half of the state, the agency said.

The biggest decline last year was 10.3 percent in Little River County, the agency said.

Business, Pages 23 on 07/13/2011

Print Headline: $738 weekly salary ranks state at 47th

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