Wages in county climb 4.5 percent

Union County ranks among the top 20 nationally and second in the state in wage increases

UNION COUNTY, NJ — For the second year in a row, the Union County had one of the highest wage increases, ranking within the top 20 nationally among large counties across the nation.

Union County also had the second highest wage increase in the state at 4.5 percent, with only Atlantic County soaring to 7 percent. However, economists at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics attributed this to a five-percent increase in Atlantic County’s high rate of unemployment last year, which was the largest in the nation.

Union County officials were elated by the news and felt efforts they have made to help residents find employment are proving to be more than effective.

“Our investments in Union County’s workforce as a whole are assisting our residents to enjoy the higher wage increase as the economy has improved,” said Freeholder Chairman Mohamed Jalloh, pointing out the county has worked “to foster a climate that encourages employment growth, productivity and sustainability.”

As the new chairman for 2015 Jalloh wanted to see expansion of the county Workforce Innovation Business Center and made it part of his initiatives for 2015. Over the past two years, though, the freeholder board has invested well over $2 million into job training, placements, programs for entrepreneurs and businesses who hire county residents.

Most recently the WIBC worked with Whole Foods to train and hire approximately 187 people for positions at a new store opening in August at Clark Commons in Clark, as well as other regional allocations.

Additionally, Whole Foods has committed to continuing to use the WIBC at Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth to further identify county residents for jobs that may come up in the region.

Recently, the freeholder board approved funding for the United Way of Greater Union County to implement Jalloh’s “Focus on Families” initiative integrating economic development, workforce development and family services. This effort is specifically focused on supporting the unemployed, particularly those families most in need.

This initiative also calls for building two new Family Success Centers in Union and Rahway, as well as starting a youth employment program later in the year.

Also, as part of Jalloh’s initiative, the county Economic Development department has a response team in place that was charged with going from town to town to meet with elected officials to assess their needs, open up a dialogue and determine what the county can do to meet these needs.

Union County was not the only one to see wage growth in 2014. Wages grew in 13 of the largest counties in the state from the fourth quarter of 2013 until the fourth quarter in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics. Large counties were defined as those with employment of 75,000 or more, as measured by the 2013 annual average employment.

In fact, Chief Regional Economist Martin Kohli noted that Atlantic County’s wage increase ranked 11th among the 339 largest counties in the nation. But, by the same token, ten of New Jersey’s largest counties reported average weekly wages rose above the $1,035 national average in the fourth quarter of 2014, while average weekly salaries in Morris and Somerset counties exceeded $1,050.

The largest employment gain was in Mercer County where the number grew by 3.7 percent. Nationally, employment grew by 2.2 percent from December 2013 to December 2014.

As noted, 10 of New Jersey’s large counties reported average weekly wages above the national average, with the state’s highest paying counties including Union, Somerset and Morris ranking among the nation’s top 20.

Ocean County reported average weekly wages of $845, the lowest of all the state’s largest counties, ranking it in the bottom at 278th.

Nationally, employment grew in 319 of the 339 largest counties, with 95 large counties registering average weekly wages above the U.S. average of $1,035 in the fourth quarter of 2014. San Mateo, Calif., held the top position with an average weekly wage of $2,138.

Among the 244 counties with an average wage below the U.S. average for the fourth quarter of 2014, was Horry, SC, reporting an average weekly wage of $610.

In New Jersey, employment was highest in Bergen County at 448,400, followed by Middlesex, 401,600, and Essex, 338,700. All together, New Jersey’s large counties accounted for 90.9 percent of total employment within the state.

Nationwide, the 339 largest counties made up 72.1 percent of total U.S. employment. The highest increases were in the northern and central part of the state while the lowest were in the southeastern portion.

Average weekly wages for this report were compiled from summaries of employment and total pay of workers covered by state and federal unemployment insurance. The 9.5 million employer reports cover 139.2 million full and part-time workers.