It’s probably no surprise to most Arizona workers.

But wages in this state are generally below what are paid elsewhere.

New figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the average job in Arizona pays nearly 4.2 percent less than the rest of the country. And those outside of the Phoenix metro area do even worse.

But Lee McPheters, research professor of economics at Arizona State University, pointed out that, in most areas of Arizona, there is a notable exception: Health care workers in general, get pay above the national average.

He pointed out that even as the state shed some 300,000 jobs since the economy fizzled, that sector of the economy has continued to add workers. In fact, last month there were 30,000 more people actually employed in that sector than when employment had previously peaked three years earlier.

McPheters said some of that is supply and demand.

“For many years we have been below the national average in terms of number of physicians and nurses per capita,” he said. “There’s just kind of natural forces at work.”

Adding to that, said McPheters, is a constant demand for services that, in general, is unrelated to the rest of the economy.

“Health care is subsidized,” he said, with employers paying at least part of the insurance premium and companies able to deduct those costs from their taxable expenses. Added to that, McPheters said, has been the state’s own program to care for the indigent.

“Arizona has, at least until recent years, has had a pretty good record there,” he said.

McPheters said supply and demand affects the rest of the economy, too. But he said that, for most other jobs, it does not work to the advantage of employees.

“Part of the reason for that is you don’t have to pay people extra to move here,” he said.

“The sunshine is an attraction and, in normal times, you have a pretty strong inflow of population,” McPheters explained. “Therefore the pressure on wages is somewhat reduced by the fact that you have usually plenty of people that are coming into the state.”

He pointed out that the wage differences between the Phoenix metropolitan area and the rest of the country is only about 2 percent. McPheters said that actually might be considered low given the influence of weather and population inflows.

McPheters also noted that Phoenix is not the national headquarters for many major corporations, those offices with the people with those big paychecks. At the same time, though, the cost of living in and around Phoenix is far less than the places with those corporate offices like New York or San Francisco.

Average hourly wage

United States $21.35
Statewide $20.38
Coconino $18.89
Maricopa and Pinal $20.89
Mohave $16.97
Pima $20.27
Yavapai $18.04
Yuma $16.40
Northern Arizona (non-metro)* $16.99
Southern Arizona (non-metro)+ $19.48

* Apache, Gila, LaPaz, Navajo

+ Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Santa Cruz

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

NOTE that figures, while released this week, are for May 2010, which are most recent available.

Average hourly wages for specific AZ occupations

Occupation U.S. AZ
All $21.35 $20.38
Management $50.69 $44.71
Business and financial operations $32.54 $29.36
Computer and mathematical $37.13 $35.79
Architecture and engineering $36.32 $35.57
Life, physical and social science $31.92 $27.03
Community and social services $20.76 $19.20
Legal $46.60 $39.95
Education, training and library $24.25 $21.14
Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media $25.14 $21.74
Health practitioners and technical $34.27 $35.48
Healthcare support $12.94 $13.26
Protective service $20.43 $21.10
Food preparation and service related $10.21 $10.28
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance $12.16 $11.49
Personal care and service $11.82 $11.76
Sales and related $17.69 $17.14
Office and administrative support $16.09 $15.81
Farming, fishing and forestry $11.70 $9.52
Construction and extraction $21.09 $18.78
Installation, maintenance and repair $20.58 $19.92
Production $16.24 $15.75
Transportation and material moving $15.70 $16.30


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

May 2010 data

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