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Last updated: Sat. Oct. 20, 2012 - 03:30 pm EDT

Local wages significantly lagging

Trail both state and nation, report finds, but jobs rising

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A new report on local wages has found a decades-long trend still exists in which Allen County salaries lag behind both state and national averages.

But Allen County commissioners said Friday there is a multifaceted plan in place to create higher-paying jobs, although it will take more time to produce results.

The wages report was part of Allen County Insight, a quarterly report detailing employment, wage and other economic data. Commissioners contracted with the Community Research Institute at IPFW this year, and this was the second report presented.

“The reality is that our wages are below the state averages, and we need to talk about it,” John Stafford, executive director of the institute, told the commissioners Friday.

In 1997, wages were slightly below national averages, but not significantly lower as they are today, Stafford said.

“We have never fully recovered from the recession in 2000,” he said. Since then, wages have steadily declined.

“The average wage today in Allen County is $39,535,” Stafford said. That compares with $40,248 for Hoosier workers and $48,040 for the country.

The county also shows a high percentage of employers are hiring temporary help through employment agencies, Stafford said.

The temporary employees usually receive lower pay, and that segment of workers does not make a positive contribution to the overall picture, Stafford said.

Although the average wage is $74,991 for a utilities job, $66,676 for company management and $57,302 for those working in the finance and insurance industry, those are not major sectors of employment in Allen County, according to the report.

The county’s top employment sector – almost 17 percent – is in the health care and social assistance field. There are both high and low wages in that particular field, bringing the average to $43,364, Stafford said.

The good news is that the Fort Wayne area, which includes Allen, Wells and Whitley counties, continues to outpace the nation in monthly job growth, and has done so for 28 consecutive months, according to the study.

In August, Allen County saw jobs rise by 5.4 percent, compared with the national average of 1.4 percent.

“We’ve done a really good job of getting back to the same number of jobs as before the recession,” Stafford said.

Employment is strong and increasing, but the composition of companies has changed, which could explain why there are more jobs but less wages, Stafford said.

Some companies have diminished or downsized, including Lincoln Financial, Tokeim and General Electric, he said.

Another example of downsizing among company headquarters is International Harvester, which used to employ 10,000 or more. Harvester’s truck plant closed in 1983.

“Of course, we now have GM, but it employs about 3,500,” Stafford said.

Commissioner Nelson Peters said the county’s plan for fortifying wages is in the works.

“There is some proof of that because we are among the top areas leading in job growth,” Peters said.

“When you start as far back in the pack as we did, it takes awhile to reap the rewards, but we are moving, absolutely moving,” he said.

The county has partnered with the city to attract business, has prepared shovel-ready development sites, is strengthening regional collaboration and has an educational K-12 system that is focusing on post-secondary training to prepare young adults for jobs in this area, Peters said.

“We’ve created 3,500 new jobs in the last quarter, and frankly, I’m encouraged by that,” Peters said.

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