King County gets crown for high pay

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, December 12, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

By BRYAN CORLISS

Herald Writer

OLYMPIA — The King is rich and getting richer, a new state report says.

King County had both the state’s highest average wages and the fastest rate of pay increases in 1999, according to the report from the state Employment Security Department.

King County’s average wage of $46,053 a year was about 35 percent greater than the average wage in Snohomish County, which placed No. 2 on the survey.

That average was up 11.6 percent over King County’s 1998 average of $41,274, the report said.

Snohomish County’s average wage was $33,889 in 1999, the report said. That was up only 0.9 percent over 1998.

Island County had an average wage of $22,853, which ranked 25th out of the state’s 39 counties.

The resulting wage disparity is the reason for heavy traffic on I-5 and I-405, the report said. Some 90,000 to 100,000 Snohomish County residents head south daily to high-paying high-tech jobs.

Overall, the state saw wage increases of 8 percent between 1998 and 1999, the report said. That was the largest growth in the past decade, and was largely a result of the big increases in the state’s most populous county.

In fact, only King County had a higher average wage than the overall state average, which was $35,724.

Most of King County’s growth is the result of "the extremely large flow of wealth … of exercised stock options from employees in the software industry," the report said.

King County has 97 percent of Washington’s software jobs, and 99 percent of its software industry payroll, the report said.

In the first quarter of 2000, software industry stock options amounted to nearly $3.3 billion, the report said — 22 percent of King County’s total payroll. Falling stock prices pushed the value of the stock options exercised in the second quarter of this year down to $2.3 billion, but that still amounted to 17 percent of King County’s total wages, the report said.

In spite of the huge economic presence, software workers make up only 2.3 percent of King County jobs.

In Snohomish County, growth over the past 12 months in retail trade, construction and fabricated metals helped offset job losses at Boeing, the report said.

The report also noted that:

  • King County has had the greatest growth in average wages over the past decade, 76.4 percent between 1990 and 1999.

    Snohomish County wages were up 42.4 percent in the same period. Island County wages were up 38.8 percent.

  • King County’s average wage was more than double the average in 14 counties: Island, Franklin, Garfield, Yakima, Jefferson, Grant, San Juan, Columbia, Kittitas, Asotin, Lincoln, Pacific, Douglas, Adams and Okanogan.

    Okanogan’s average salary was $19,242, the lowest in the state in 1999.

  • Snohomish County was one of four in the state to record wage growth of less than 1 percent between 1998 and 1999.

    The others were Stevens (up 0.4 percent), Klickitat (up 0.3 percent) and Ferry (down 1.2 percent).

  • Ferry County wages grew only 10.9 percent over the decade, the worst in the state by a wide margin. Klickitat County’s 22.6 percent growth was next slowest.

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