A Tale of Two Cities – Spokane versus King County Wages

The following charts are produced using data provided by the State of Washington on average wages by county, and by category. The original data comes from here:  https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/lmea/IndustryDashboard/ and reading the data for each category, by county.

King County has higher wages than the state average.  A comparison to the State of Washington averages (instead of King County) is only slightly more favorable to Spokane. What these charts show is explained below the charts.  These are the top most categories within the State’s database. It is possible to get sub categories, elsewhere on the State’s web site, to compare, say, architects, rather than “Professional and Technical Services” and find that some specific job groups within each category pay better than indicated by the broad average.

Chart 1 – Spokane weekly average wages, by category, are shown in blue and King County in red.

Chart 2- Spokane weekly average wage, by category, as a percent of the average in King County.

Some one is bound to post a comment saying, “But how can this be true if Spokane wages are 80% of the state average? This looks much worse.”

For those of you on drugs, read carefully:

  • The above charts compare Spokane and King County, not the state average.
  • The above charts do not reflect that the fields with the greatest discrepancies do not account for  many jobs in Spokane. Here’s a chart from ESD that shows who works in what category. Health care, retail trade, accommodation and food services (and government, which is missing for King County) account for most of the jobs in Spokane.


The Education Services category is private education services. Public schools and universities are bundled under Government. However, the Workforceexplorer.com web site said it was missing the data on the Government category for King County so I was not able to compare Spokane and King County government employment.  Government accounts for 20% or $1 out of every $5 earned in Spokane County.

The State also splits out salaries by different categories or sub categories accessible at different locations in their web site. The sub categories produce different results than those shown above.

The above columns are not weighted by the number of people who work in these sectors. For example, the Information sector in Spokane, as a percent of the workforce, is well below the state average. The salary difference is huge but it effects a small number of workers.

The wage differences between Spokane and King County are staggering, particularly as we move to the right of the chart into the “high skilled” job categories. This is further evidence that Spokane County has few good paying jobs available for high skilled workers.

Another way to look at this is to say that high skilled workers choose Spokane for other reasons but at a cost of forgoing 35% to 60% of their earnings potential to live in Spokane. Or, that Spokane has a lower quality skilled work force and these are the market wages for their respective level of skill. No matter how you slice it, this is a tragedy.

To attract a “world class” work force will require substantially greater salaries to be paid in Spokane.  But relative salaries in Spokane have been dropping for over 30 years and no plan has worked to increase the Spokane wage level during that time.

And there is no plan that will work because chronic low wages are a feature! Spokane has long promoted itself as a business destination because of its low wage structure.

Not shown in the categories but pulled out of a different section of the WorkForceExplorer web site, Life Science salaries are 78% of those in King County. The Information sector, which includes “software publishers” but also includes online services and newspapers, pays just 39% of King County wages and just 45% of Washington State average salaries in that sector.

Here is the data. There are a few categories missing from the data available at ESD.

Sector    Spokane    King County    Spokane as Percent
Accommodations/Food Svc    288    382    75.39%
Arts, Entertainment, Rec    277    640    43.28%
Education Services    777    657    118.26%
Retail    494    689    71.70%
Health care/Social Services    763    888    85.92%
Transportation/Warehouse    675    1040    64.90%
Manufacturing    904    1382    65.41%
Prof. Tech Services    867    1529    56.70%
Finance/Insurance    1107    1881    58.85%
Information    845    2136    39.56%


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