U.S. Wages Reset to Early 2008 Levels: Boston and Seattle Fit National Trend; Detroit, San Diego, San Francisco Fare Worse

1/11/11Follow @gthuang

The average salary for U.S. company workers rose throughout 2007 and 2008, fell during 2009, and held fairly steady in 2010. By the fourth quarter of last year, average earnings had leveled off to approximately what they were at the start of 2008. But there were some variations between different parts of the country.

That’s all according to a national survey released today by PayScale, a Seattle-based firm that collects and organizes salary and compensation data across companies, geographies, and industries. The survey tracks total cash compensation for full-time, private industry employees.

The national trend (see gray curve in chart below) shows that U.S. wages grew 5.4 percent from 2006 through the end of 2008. Wages decreased by about 1.4 percent during the recession in 2009, reaching their lowest point in the third quarter of that year. Average U.S. earnings have been pretty flat throughout 2010, roughly matching the level of the first quarter of 2008. (The curves are calculated in terms of PayScale’s “index”—see the methodology here—so the absolute wage numbers aren’t as important as the trend—or the comparisons among different regions of the country, which we’ll get to below.)

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Quarterly Compensation Trends for Boston Metro Area
The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
Boston Metro Area
National (US)
Get a Free Salary Report
Compensation Data Provided by PayScale, Inc.

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The trends for the Boston metro area (red curve above) have tracked the national stats fairly closely. For the first three quarters of 2010, Boston wages trailed the U.S. average (by as much as 0.6 percent); but in the fourth quarter, Boston has caught up.

Here are the wage comparisons for Xconomy’s other metro areas, and some quick observations:

—Seattle-area wages also have matched the national trend, but Seattle’s wages have been consistently higher than the U.S. average by 1-2 percent (see red curve below).

Quarterly Compensation Trends for Seattle Metro Area
The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
Seattle Metro Area
National (US)
Get a Free Salary Report
Compensation Data Provided by PayScale, Inc.


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—Detroit wages fell precipitously in 2009, to more than 3 percent below the national average (which was also falling). The trend since then has been more volatile than the U.S. trend, with another drop during 2010, followed by an upward swing in the most recent quarter (see red curve below).

Quarterly Compensation Trends for Detroit Metro Area
The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
Detroit Metro Area
National (US)
Get a Free Salary Report
Compensation Data Provided by PayScale, Inc.


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—San Diego earnings typically have been above the U.S. average, until the most recent quarter, which showed a big drop. At the end of 2010, wages were 2.2 percent below what they were a year earlier—and the lowest they’ve been in three and a half years (see red curve below).

Quarterly Compensation Trends for San Diego Metro Area
The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
San Diego Metro Area
National (US)
Get a Free Salary Report
Compensation Data Provided by PayScale, Inc.


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—San Francisco Bay Area wages were higher than the U.S. average until the end of 2008, when they started to fall in line with the national stats. In the most recent two quarters, Bay Area wages dropped noticeably and were about 1 percent lower than a year earlier (see red curve below).

Quarterly Compensation Trends for San Francisco Metro Area
The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
San Francisco Metro Area
National (US)
Get a Free Salary Report
Compensation Data Provided by PayScale, Inc.


Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.startable.com Healy Jones

    Thanks for pointing out these charts; interesting data.

  • Rogan

    Interesting, but where are the error bars?

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