Average Wages in Linn and Benton Counties by Education Level

by Pat O'Connor

October 25, 2017

One of the most popular posters the Oregon Employment Department’s Research Division distributes is titled “Education Pays.” It can be found at high schools around the state as a reminder to students of the higher earnings an education can provide. It is a straight forward chart that shows that average earnings increase for workers with higher levels of education. Similar to what we find statewide in Oregon, Linn and Benton County workers with more formal education have higher earnings on average than workers with less formal education. The average monthly earnings across all education levels in Oregon were $4,316 in the third quarter of 2016; that compares with $3,980 in Linn and Benton counties. The largest gap comparing statewide and Linn and Benton counties earnings by education was for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Statewide, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned $6,321 per month compared with $5,654 in Linn and Benton counties.

Workers younger than 25 are not counted in the educational attainment data. The reason the U.S. Census Bureau only includes workers ages 25 and older in the education attainment data is because that is an age when most people have completed their formal education.
Earnings Vary by Industry

The graph shows the average earnings by educational attainment across all industries, but earnings can vary substantially between industries. The table provides an industry level look at how earnings vary by educational attainment. The cells highlighted in red are those with average monthly earnings greater than $3,980; the average earnings across all sectors and all education levels.      

The column on the right side has the earnings of workers ages 24 and younger. These young workers consistently earn less than their more experienced counterparts ages 25 and older. For young workers in Linn and Benton counties manufacturing; construction; and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting are the three industries with the highest average monthly earnings. Those three industries account for 19 percent of the jobs held by younger workers in the area. Accommodation and food services, retail trade, and health care and social assistance account for 53 percent of the jobs held by workers ages 24 and younger in Linn and Benton counties.    
The utilities industry in Linn and Benton counties, with average monthly earnings of $7,182, has the highest average earnings across all industries. That is also true across all levels of educational attainment. Some of the most common occupations within the utilities industry are electrical power-line installers and repairers, water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators, electrical engineers, control and valve installers and repairers, and plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Only about 200 people are employed in the utilities industry in Linn and Benton counties, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of the area’s total employment  

Health care and social assistance is the largest industry in Linn and Benton counties, employing more than 12,000 or nearly 16 percent of the total jobs in the area. Average monthly earnings of $4,584 ranks health care’s average earnings ninth highest among the 19 industries; nearly $600 higher than average earnings across all sectors in Linn and Benton counties. Education does pay within health care and social assistance. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher within the industry had average monthly earnings of $7,495 in the third quarter of 2016. Across all industries workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher had average monthly earnings of $5,654 in the third quarter of 2016.

The industry in Linn and Benton counties reporting the lowest average monthly earnings was accommodation and food services. This is an industry where our “Education Pays” poster doesn’t quite seem to hold true. All of the workers age 25 and older in accommodation and food services have similar average monthly earnings for all levels of educational attainment, ranging from $1,714 to $1,805.

Linn and Benton counties’ younger workers (ages 24 and younger) in accommodation and food services had average monthly earnings of $1,141 in 2016, less than their older co-workers in the industry. These younger workers accounted for 38 percent of the jobs held in accommodation and food services. The share of young workers holding jobs in accommodation and food services has been on a long-term decline the past 20 years. In 1996, nearly half (49%) of the accommodation and food services jobs in Linn and Benton counties were held by workers ages 24 and younger. The share of young workers in accommodation and food services actually bottomed out in the wake of the Great Recession from 2011 to 2014, when only 37 percent of the industry’s jobs were held by younger workers. In 2015 and 2016, we have seen an uptick in the share of young workers in accommodation and food services, in particular among teenagers. Hopefully the recent uptick is a sign of a healthier labor market where older workers leave the industry to pursue career advancement opportunities and younger job seekers get the opportunity to be part of the workforce.

Overall, workers with higher educational attainment do earn more on average than workers with lower levels of education in Linn and Benton counties. But averages are just that, averages. Earnings vary greatly depending on the industry. “The devil is in the details” is another way to say that. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education had average monthly earnings of $5,654 in Linn and Benton counties in 2016. However, in seven out of 19 industries listed, the average monthly earnings were less than $3,980 for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education; the average monthly earnings across all industries and education levels in the two counties.  


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