We still make less than U.S.: Wages in Chattanooga lag behind national average by 14 percent

We still make less than U.S.: Wages in Chattanooga lag behind national average by 14 percent

June 5th, 2014 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

POLL: Do you make less than the average U.S. wage of $22.33 an hour?

FAST FACT

Chattanooga-area average wages have held steady at 14 percent less than the national average nearly every year since 2006. The only exception was 2009, when the gap reached 15 percent.

TOP 5

Here are the top industries in Chattanooga by employment:

Office administration and support: 36,470

Transportation and material moving: 23,650

Production: 21,230

Sales and related: 20,850

Food preparation and serving: 19,760

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Working in the greater Chattanooga metropolitan area, you probably make less than others in your field around the country.

About 14 percent less, according to U.S. Department of Labor numbers released Wednesday.

Last May, the national average wage was $22.33 an hour, according to the report. But for Chattanooga, the average wage was $19.29.

Accounting for Chattanooga's slightly lower cost of living -- 7 percent below average, according to The Council for Community and Economic Research -- workers here still make less than others around the country.

The widest gap is among those in the arts, design, entertainment, sports and media. Chattanooga employees in those fields average $19.78 an hour, which is 26 percent below the national average of $26.72.

Michelle Kimbrell, membership director at Chattanooga's Association for Visual Arts, said she and others knew that going into art-centered careers would likely not be lucrative.

"We joke about it all the time," she said.

She was not surprised to hear that Chattanooga artists and art professionals have a tough financial row to hoe.

"We all do it because we want to be here, not because of what we take home on our paychecks," she said.

But the gap is enough to cause some second-guessing among local artists.

Matthew Dutton moved to Chattanooga from Florida in 1997, and he said Wednesday that California at times looks pretty good to him.

"I have a lot of galleries over in California, and it's possible I would be more successful there," he said. "Possibly -- that's just speculation."

The BLS report goes on to state that protective services workers have the second-widest pay gap, with a 19 percent jump from local average wages to national ones.

Even traditionally high-income occupations are affected.

Management professionals, on average, made $53.15 an hour nationally last year, the report states. Here, they brought home nearly $10 less than that, at $43.80 an hour.

Legal professionals -- lawyers, paralegals, judges, court reporters and arbitrators -- also averaged a nearly $10 difference.

The report says they made $47.89 an hour nationally, while locals averaged $38.61 an hour.

That's a 19 percent gap.

But Bob Lype, a Chattanooga attorney, said he doesn't see that difference reflected among local lawyers.

"To my knowledge, there's not a 19 percent disparity for a starting lawyer in Chattanooga," he said.

Lype said Chattanooga is comparable to other cities of its size, and that if there is a large gap, it's between Chattanooga and larger cities like Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles.

"I don't necessarily find that to be true, or it hasn't been true for the lawyers I've known," he said.

He has never felt like moving to another city would give him the opportunity to make significantly more money.

In addition to pay gap numbers, the BLS report also lists the greatest number of jobs in Chattanooga in the administrative area with 36,470 jobs, followed by 23,650 transportation and trucking jobs.

Transportation accounts for about 10 percent of all employment in the area.

That's in large part because Chattanooga hosts two of the 10 largest trucking companies in the country, U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport.

Lisa Pate, chief administrative officer at U.S. Xpress, said she is "absolutely exceptionally proud" of the statistic.

U.S. Xpress employs 11,000 people nationwide.

Chattanooga's proximity to two heavily traveled interstates lends itself to the transportation industry, Pate said.

And trucking and transporting aren't going away.

"There will always be trucking jobs available," she said. "Always."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.