Walla Walla County’s average annual wage grew by 3.7% in 2018 to $44,610.

Workers in the labor force for the area made $1,612 on average last year than they did the previous year, according to statistics from the Washington State Employment Security Department and recently presented by the Port of Walla Walla.

The information helps to understand the economic vitality of the community and its movement in various industries.

Some of the increase was driven by a 10.5% bump in average wages in manufacturing. The wholesale trade and “other services” minus public administration each grew by 8.6%. In an anomaly that Port officials could not quite explain real estate, rental and leasing wages had a massive spike of 73.4%, climbing from $58,763 in average annual wage in 2017 to $101,878 in 2018.

The average is an interesting measuring stick for individual residents to compare their own earnings. But it also helps to understand the health of industry and its value in wages.

For instance, the top three major sectors of employment — government, health care and social assistance, and manufacturing — all have something in common. Although they are major employers, the percentage of employment they represent is even less than the percent of the total wage they pay.

Government, the biggest employment sector in the county with 5,659 people on average in 2018, accounts for 20.3% of employment. But with an average annual wage last year of $55,321, the percent of the total wage those jobs provided last year was 25.2. So the sector that offered about one-fifth of the jobs, also represented one-quarter of the total overall wages in the county, according to the data.

For health care and social assistance, Walla Walla’s average employment was 4,213 people — or about 15.1% of the employed — while its average annual wage of $49,005 represented 16.6% of the total wages paid in 2018.

During the last year an average of 3,937 people were employed in manufacturing, which represented 14.1% of employed people and 18.4% of the total wages paid out with an average annual wage of $57,910.

Where the tables turned was in the next two largest employment sectors: agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and the retail trade.

The average employment for the former in 2018 was 3,720 people, or 13.4% of those employed. But average annual wages of $31,496 in the ag, forestry, fishing and hunting category accounted for just 9.4% of total wages in 2018.

The retail trade employed an average of 2,326 people — about 8.4% of those employed — but represented 5.2% of total wages with an average of $27,996.

“Those are definitely not living wage jobs,” Port Economic Development Director Paul Gerola told business, government and industry leaders during the Port’s Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting last September.

The information can help the Port and other government officials target industry for employment recruitment, as well as services.

Walla Walla’s average annual wage was around $20,000 less than the state average in 2018.

Washington’s average annual wage grew to $65,301 last year. The 5.5% increase from 2017 was the largest year-over-year jump since 2006, Employment Security said.

According to the state information, the weekly wage climbed from $1,190 to $1,255 between 2017 and 2018. Those numbers account for wages covered by unemployment insurance only.

The average annual wage is used to calculate unemployment benefits for jobless workers.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.