Congratulations to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area. Forbes magazine says we do not have the worst-paying region in the United States.
But don't go celebrating too hard. The magazine did rank us fifth worst on that list.
In an article published on Nov. 29, Forbes revealed that the median income for college-educated employees in the area is only $47,400. Newer employees (five or less years of experience) bring in about $38,400 per year; mid-career workers make $63,000.
Forbes consulted Payscale.com, a site that has collected salary and career data from more than 35 million people. The magazine looked at compensation data for professionals in the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas, based on 2010 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The data showed the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., area as the worst-paying area in the United States, with overall median pay of $45,400. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, region was second worst with $45,600, followed by Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla. ($46,500), El Paso, Texas, ($46,900) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre ($47,400).
Those figures were about half the median pay for the top metro area in the Forbes ranking, which is the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., metro area, with $93,100 as the median salary.
That that region and others on the top 5 list, including the greater San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Bridgeport, Conn., and Houston metros, were at the top was not a surprise to Katie Bardaro, Payscale.com's lead economist, who is quoted in the Forbes story.
What did surprise her, however, was the disparity between the top five and the bottom five.
The range in pay is pretty astounding in that the metro area at the top of the list has workers with median pay more than double the metro area at the bottom of the list, Bardaro noted.
Terri Ooms, executive director of the Wilkes-Barre-based Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, said she expected the local metro to rank poorly in terms of pay. Number 5 in the nation is kind of shocking, but when you look at the data, it's telling the whole story.
The data she references is educational attainment, unemployment, poverty levels and other data the institute analyzes annually. Ooms said this region consistently compares poorly with other metros of similar size and with state and national figures. And the per-capita income in the region's major cities shows the results.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey, the per-capita income in Wilkes-Barre is $16,712; in Hazleton, it's $18,215, and in Scranton, it's $19,068. The per-capita income in Pennsylvania is $27,049.
Ooms said Rust Belt cities from Michigan to Pennsylvania have not been successful in reinventing themselves, and places such as Scranton, Youngstown and other cities in Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania have not done enough to change course.
Education is the future economic development strategy, she said of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region.
We need to continue to promote the benefits of post-secondary education, and I'm not just talking about college. I mean community college, trade schools, industry certification. We need to keep training our workforce, Ooms said.
Timothy F. Kearney, chairman of the department of business at Misericordia University in Dallas Township, said he'd be shocked if (this region) fell any lower, but he'd also be surprised if it moved up much either.
He said major changes need to happen, and this region isn't primed to make such moves just yet. He said it still relies too heavily on retail and other lower-wage, lower-skilled jobs, including logistics and warehousing.
The cities at the top of the list are not too surprising, as they are dominated by high-wage industries like tech (both IT and Biotech), finance or oil, Bardaro said. San Jose, which has gained the name ‘Silicon Valley' for all its computer-related companies based there, is a Mecca for IT firms and thus high-wage workers, the article quoted her as saying.
The lowest pay rates of the top 100 largest metro regions in the country:
1. Youngstown, Mahoning, Trumbull, Ohio
2. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
3. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.
4. El Paso, Texas
6. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark.
7. Chattanooga, Tenn.
8. Columbia, S.C.
10. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Mich.
-- Source: Forbes.com and payscale.com