In New London County, employment up but wages down for 2nd quarter

From June 2016 to June 2017, New London County saw its largest year-over-year percent growth in employment in more than 15 years — but also a slight decrease in wages, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The second-quarter report for county employment and wages shows that New London County saw a 1.9 percent increase in employment, compared with a national average of 1.7 percent.

With a 0.2 percent decrease in average weekly wage, the county was one of only 19 across the country — out of the 347 largest counties — to see a decrease in year-over-year wages. The national average was a 3.2 percent increase.

Mark Hill, chief operating officer of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, said in an email that workforce and economic boards typically rely on multiple quarters to detect a trend.

The first quarter 2017 report from BLS showed that average weekly wages in New London County were up 9.8 percent from March 2016 to March 2017. This growth ranked New London at 21 out of 347 counties.

Hill said it is fair to assume the region added jobs in manufacturing and other high-paying sectors at a faster rate in the first quarter, while it added lower-paying jobs at a faster rate in the second quarter.

"The good news is the region is still adding jobs," he concluded.

Hill said that to EWIB, the most important data point is employment growth, which he called "a good economic story, given historical context."

In its archives, BLS provides county employment and wages reports from the first quarter of 2003 to the first quarter of 2017. In none of those 57 reports is employment growth as high as 1.9 percent, the growth for the second quarter of 2017.

Compared to the rest of the state and country, New London County was slower to feel the effects of the Great Recession and slower to recover. It saw decreases in year-over-year employment in every quarter from the end of 2008 to the beginning of 2015, except for the first quarter of 2011, when employment was flat.

Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research for DataCore Partners, said that the wage growth in New London County has been slower to materialize than the job growth, but he expects to see wages strengthen in 2018.

Fairfield County saw a greater decrease in wages than New London County, at 1.9 percent, and it also saw a 0.5 percent decrease in employment. Klepper-Smith attributed this to the effects of the exodus of General Electric, which moved its corporate headquarters from Bridgeport to Boston, Mass., this past summer.

Patrick J. Flaherty, assistant director of research for the Connecticut Department of Labor, said that the timing of overtime and payout of year-end bonuses could be factors contributing to wage differences from quarter to quarter.

He commented that the average weekly wage for manufacturing in New London County is up 3.6 percent over the past year, whereas inflation is only 1 percent to 2 percent. But Flaherty added that in manufacturing, the region is seeing the retirements of higher-paid employees, who are often replaced by lower-paid employees.

Compared to New London County's figure of 1.9 percent, employment growth was 1.2 percent in New Haven County and 0.8 percent in Hartford County.

The 7.3 percent employment growth in Texas was the largest in the country, while New Hanover, N.C., saw the largest increase in weekly wages, at 11.9 percent.

e.moser@theday.com

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