Data: Uptick for Las Vegas workers’ wages tiny

How does an annual pay increase of 6 percent to 12 percent sound to you?

If you’re in software engineering, health care or another skilled field in Las Vegas, it should sound about right.

Professionals in technical sectors are enjoying big wage gains, as a shortage of specialized local workers drives up asking prices for skilled labor, said William Werksman, managing partner of Las Vegas staffing firm Resource Partners.

But average pay in all local industries continues to languish. Local research and consulting firm Applied Analysis reported weekly average earnings in Las Vegas of $670 in July, up just $3 from July 2010, and well below a July 2007 peak of $751.

That indicates the job market remains fragile and businesses lack the revenue to justify higher wages, said Brian Gordon, a principal of Applied Analysis.

"We haven’t seen a lot of upward pressure on average weekly earnings, and the upticks we have seen are largely sourced to seasonality," Gordon said.

Pay trends vary by sector.

Local manufacturing wages ticked down to a weekly average of $547 in July, compared with $549 a year earlier and $597 at their September 2007 apex.

Leisure and hospitality pay statewide slumped to $418, down from $445 in July 2010 and a high of $521 in June 2007.

Among Las Vegas businesses with fewer than 100 workers, the average paycheck shrank 5.4 percent from July to August, according to Illinois-based payroll-processing company SurePayroll.

Construction wages in Las Vegas jumped to $755 a week, up from $673 a week in July 2010, possibly because of steep declines in the labor force, as fewer workers share available hours and pay, Gordon said. Still, weekly construction wages are well below their June 2008 high of $897.

In retail, local weekly pay jumped to $404, up from $381 a year earlier, as tourism picked up. Retail wages were down from a June 2008 peak of $480.

Other locals seeing noticeable recent pay gains include product managers, who supervise a good from idea to completion, and salespeople who market high-tech products such as computer software and hardware, Werksman said. Senior managers and executives in hospitality are also seeing better earnings as competing resorts pay above-market prices to lure them away.

Werksman said workers with in-demand specialty skills can get pay jumps of 6 percent to 12 percent, particularly when they switch jobs.

At Desert Research Institute, the research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education, researchers could take home 12.6 percent more per year.

The institute says it needs to boost researchers’ earnings, which average $90,000 a year, to hang on to talent. The institute, which has 130 researchers, has lost more than 15 researchers in two years to greener pastures with better pay, tenure or a lower cost of living, said Public Information Officer Kelly Frank.

The pay bump will come out of the researchers’ contracts and grants, not from state funds, Frank said. She noted that researchers who move out of Nevada take their grants with them.

"If we don’t do something to maintain the faculty we have and help encourage new faculty, this money will leave the state," she said. "You don’t want to cap ingenuity. If we’re not on par with what other research institutes across the country offer, then we need to make ourselves more competitive."

The institute on Friday will ask the Board of Regents to approve the raises.

For lower-skilled workers, observers said they see few indications that wages will rise anytime soon.

Experts forecast pay increases using two key trends: Placement of temporary workers and average number of hours worked per week. More temp workers mean companies are enjoying sales jumps, and could soon need full-time hires to meet demand. And businesses add weekly hours for existing employees before they begin hiring new workers.

Neither indicator shows much promise for Las Vegas.

Werksman said he hasn’t seen any big bump in demand for temp workers. Plus, hours worked fell to an average of 33.2 per week across all local industries in July, down from 34.4 in July 2010 and a peak of 37.6 in July 2007.

"We’re going to be treading water for a little while, until there’s more certainty in terms of creating a confidence level that will allow business leaders to expand," Werksman said.

Gordon added that business owners would need several quarters of economic expansion before they spent more on hiring and wages.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or 702-380-4512.

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