NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Earnings Vary City-to-City

September 7, 1999

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is expanding its wage survey to include detailed data on pay rates in hundreds of cities. Instead of simply reporting the national average salary for a secretary in a particular industry, for example, the new information will report wage levels across all industries and in 300 cities.

Here are a few revelations for 1997:

  • The average pay for a janitor in Kokomo, Ind., is $29,170 -- more than double the amount in Wichita Falls, Texas.
  • Lawyers in Los Angeles average $83,500 a year -- besting their colleagues in Philadelphia who only bring in $75,910.
  • Physicists and astronomers in Los Angeles bring in $73,440 -- ahead of their New York counterparts, who make $67,110.
  • Chicago dentists make $83,890 -- but those in Washington state pull in $91,020.

The bureau cautions that its survey only covers employees who get regular paychecks, with taxes withheld, and qualify for unemployment insurance. This eliminates a whole army of workers -- including business owners, partners, the self-employed and day laborers. That would exclude most well-paid lawyers and investment bankers, who are usually regarded as partners.

Another concern is that some figures are based on a rather low response rate by those surveyed.

Source: Louis Uchitelle and Karl Russell, "Butcher, Baker, Skyscraper Maker: What America Earns," New York Times, September 5, 1999.


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