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Weld County Wages Low For State, But Growing Fast

A drill rig in Northern Colorado

Weld County had the largest increase in employment in the country in 2013. But compared to the rest of Front Range, its wages are relatively low.

That difference is quickly changing though, as the impacts of the energy boom continue to trickle through the region's economy.

"In fact, if you look at year-over-year change, the state average wage went up 0.6 percent, and the Greeley, Weld County Metropolitan Statistical Area went up 2.7 percent," said Richard Wobbekind, an economist at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business.

According to data released in June from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  Weld County's average weekly wages were $871 for the fourth quarter of 2013  – the lowest of the high-population Front Range counties. State average wages over the same period were $1,023 a week, higher than the national average of $1,000.

One of the reasons for Weld County's low average income is that it was historically more of an agricultural county, with a low cost of living and correspondingly low wages, said Wobbekind.

"It exhibits a lot of characteristics of a more rural county, or an agricultural county, which it is. Because it's sort of on the edge. And now it's getting more drawn in to the Denver metro," he said.

Credit Bureau of Labor Statistics
Many Northern Colorado counties saw greater than average increases in employment last year.

Now that oil is driving the region's economy, wages in the area are quickly playing catch-up. The average energy job in the county paid $77,000, with jobs specific to oil and gas extraction averaging $122,000. Wages in the Greeley area went up over four times as fast as overall state wages for 2013.

If gas prices rise and oil prices fall, the economic situation in the county could change, although wells would continue to produce oil and municipalities would continue to receive tax revenue.

"You're still going to have the energy extraction for years into the future and you are still going to get the tax benefits and some other things coming off of that, whether or not there is additional drilling going on," Wobbekind said.

According to new numbers [.pdf] released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Colorado cities all continue to reduce unemployment rates.

Colorado Springs had the lowest unemployment rate for May 2014, at 4.2 percent, followed closely by the Fort Collins-Loveland area at 4.3 percent. This was a 0.9 percent improvement from rates in those cities in May 2013. Pueblo has the highest unemployment rate of metropolitan areas in the state, at 7.7 percent. That's an improvement from the 9.2 percent rate it had in May 2013.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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