Though the median U.S. household income rose by 5.2 percent last year, workers living in Pierce and Thurston counties saw a different outcome.
Median household wages — where half earn more and half earn less — remained essentially flat from 2015 compared with the previous year for Pierce and Thurston counties, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Meanwhile, the median household income in King County jumped by 8 percent in that time period, likely fueled by Seattle’s rise — up more than 13 percent to $80,349 per household last year.
$60,496 Pierce County median household income in 2015
$62,137 Thurston County median household income in 2015
$80,349 King County median household income in 2015
$64,129 Statewide median household income in 2015
These days, employment and wage growth in large, West Coast cities are fueled by the aerospace and technology industries, said Paul Turek, a labor economist with the Washington state Employment Security Division.
“The more affluent you are, the more apt your income has gone up by a greater amount,” Turek said. “On the lower end, it might even be possible your income could have declined or remained fairly flat.”
Pierce County median household earnings were $60,496 in 2015, down $329 compared with 2014. Thurston County median household earnings were $62,137 in 2015, up $528 compared with 2014. Earnings can include take-home pay as well as investment and other incomes.
Part of the reason Pierce County and Tacoma have seen stagnant growth could be due to migration patterns, Turek said. As it becomes more expensive to live in Seattle and its satellite communities, people are moving to neighboring counties where it’s more affordable to live.
But not all cities in Pierce County saw stagnation in household incomes. Federal Way households saw an increase of more than $9,000 in 2015 compared with the prior year, bringing its median household income to $62,174. That figure still falls short of the state median of $64,129 in 2015, but is above the national median of $56,516 per household.
As the economy improves, Turek said, commute times increase, partially because trucks transporting goods are competing with commuters in cars.
“It adds to the traffic mix and makes it that much harder for people to commute to a job and live in an area that’s not King County,” Turek said.
Lower income workers might be moving to points south of Seattle because it’s less expensive to live there. He said this also adds to traffic congestion.
25.7 percent of Pierce County adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015
32.7 percent of Thurston County adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015
28 percent of Tacoma adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015
34.2 percent of adults statewide with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015
For the first time, more than a quarter of Pierce County’s adult population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, census estimates from 2015 show. That figure is slightly higher in Tacoma, with 28 percent of adults ages 25 or older having completed a postsecondary degree — a more than 11 percent increase in the number of adults with post-high school degrees from the previous year.
Thurston County fares slightly better, with nearly 33 percent of its adult residents having a postsecondary degree.
All remain below the percent of adult state residents with higher degrees, at just over 34 percent.