IE wages lowest among big counties
Riverside and San Bernardino counties have the lowest pay among the 50 largest U.S. counties. Yes, the bottom of the ladder. With Labor Day in mind, not to mention the grand debate about affordable housing in Southern California, I loaded my trusty spreadsheet with some of my favorite employment data from federal job counters. My rankings from those stats — culled from employment records vs. polling of bosses and workers — revealed the Inland Empire’s pay gap.
And the shortfall also could be an opportunity for our coastal counties. Let me walk you through the numbers.
In 2019’s first quarter — the freshest edition of this data — Riverside County bosses paid an average weekly wage of $927. That was dead last among major employment centers, the 50 U.S. counties with the largest number of workers. The good news is Riverside County wages were up 4.2% in a year, the eighth-best increase among those big counties.
Yes, employers in Riverside County are hiring: 17,600 new jobs in a year — 2.4% growth that was ninth-best among the top 50. This hiring brought the countywide job count to 752,300 workers, making the county the nation’s 26th-biggest employment market.
Nearby in San Bernardino County, employers didn’t pay much better: its $931 weekly wage ranked No. 49, up 3.4% in a year and the No. 15 raise. The countywide workforce of 760,700 was 24th-largest. And it was up thanks to 12,700 hires in a year — 1.7% job growth (No. 22).
The Inland Empire’s low pay — roughly one-third less than coastal counties — can be tied partly to its role as the warehouse and distribution hub for the region’s manufacturers and shippers. Yes, logistics jobs are a fast-growing niche, but let’s politely say it’s grueling and modestly paid work.
Plus Riverside and San Bernardino counties serve as bedroom communities for the coastal towns that have better-paying jobs and very pricey housing. So the Inland Empire needs plenty of service workers to support the daily lives of commuting families.
Fatter paychecks to the west are roughly 40% higher! Los Angeles County bosses paid an average $1,282 weekly wage (ranking No. 22 among the top 50). Pay in the county was up 3.5% in a year, the No. 14 increase. L.A.’s nation- leading 4.48 million jobs grew by 61,900 in the year — 1.4% job growth, a midrange No. 28.
And in Orange County, employers paid an average $1,287 wage (No. 20) that’s up 1.8% in a year (11th-smallest gain). Jobs totaled 1.64 million workers (No. 7), after 19,400 hires — 1.2% job growth (No. 32).
Lower pay to the east helps explain why housing is cheaper inland. Those relative bargains also attract coastal workers seeking more affordable residences. Not only does that migration challenge the finances of Inland Empire workers; it also helps explain why freeways are jammed with commuters.
This east-west wage gap could be a marketing plus for SoCal. Having an employer relocate from a coastal town to the Inland Empire is a win for California compared with an out-of-state move.
You see, inland housing is considered affordable on many scales.
It’s cheap regionally.
The median selling price of a single-family home in Riverside and San Bernardino counties was $380,000 in the second quarter, according to the National Association of Realtors.
That’s a fraction of Orange County, where its median selling price of $836,000 for a single-family home in the second quarter was 199% above the national $279,600 median. Yes, a touch less than triple. And Los Angeles County, at $567,000, was double the national norm.
But inland housing also scores fairly well on the national rankings. It’s only 36% above the U.S. median. Affordable places such as Portland, Oregon; Reno, Nevada; Miami; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City are all priced within 10%, plus or minus, of the Inland Empire.
Could pitching Southern California’s inland cost savings be better than stuffing more workers and homes into coastal towns?
In 2019’s first quarter, Riverside County bosses paid an average weekly wage of $927. That ranked dead last among the 50U.S. counties with the largest number of workers. In San Bernardino County, the average weekly wage was $931.