Regional Wages Slip

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The average wage in the Pittsburgh region dropped slightly in the third quarter of 2017 following two quarters of steady year-over-year growth.

The average worker in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area took home $1000 per week in the third quarter of 2017, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 1.4 percent decrease from the $1,014 average weekly wage reported in the third quarter of 2016.

Pittsburgh is not alone. Seattle and Austin, TX, were the only Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions to see a year-over-year increase in third-quarter wages. Weekly wages in Seattle are the highest, having risen 2.3 percent to an average of $1,445 a week.

While the wages in Pittsburgh are similar to Charlotte and Cincinnati, they fall below the average weekly wages among all 16 Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions.

Historically, that hasn’t always been the case. And despite slipping in the third quarter, wages in the Pittssburgh MSA have been gaining ground.

“The line—‘Oh, Pittsburgh’s wages were always low.’ It’s not really true,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh University Center for Social and Urban Research. “The 70s were great—the average wages were much higher than the national average as a result of a lot of great steel contracts.”

That changed in the 1980s when the region’s steel industry collapsed. The region struggled to keep pace with the U.S. economy and wages, but then gained traction with a more diversified economy that emerged.

“We haven’t shot past the U.S. average [wage]. But in the past few years, [regional wages] have risen and are catching up to the U.S.,” Briem said.

“Going forward, the big debate is how close are we to full employment and, as our region hits employment levels that are closer to full employment, will wages rise? Will there be greater competition in the labor market in the region that will push up wages?”