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State numbers: Wages down in private sector

New numbers show significant recession-era pay cuts in virtually every employment category in Nevada, with only the government sector dodging smaller wages.

According to statistics from the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the employment category encompassing professional and business services posted the steepest drop, with average wages plummeting 23 percent, or nearly $300 a week, from $1,256 to $967, between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2009, the latest period with available statistics.

The sector includes company management, administrative and support services, employment agencies and professional operations such as law firms, engineering businesses, architects and accountants.

Mining posted the second-biggest wage decline, with average weekly pay falling 12.9 percent, or $195, from $1,512 to $1,317.

Tim Crowley, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the drop in compensation among mining businesses probably came from a shortage of available credit, which has forced operators to "tighten their belts."

In other sectors, shrinking paychecks came from dwindling hours worked.

In the category that includes retail, pay is off 2.8 percent during the recession, with average weekly compensation falling from $718 to $698.

"Retailers are eliminating overtime and cutting hours, and they’re going to four-day work weeks to keep everybody employed equally," said Mary Lau, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Association of Nevada. "Rather than lay people off, they’re decreasing hours, so at least everybody has some kind of job."

The government sector was the only employment category that saw pay rise during the recession. Weekly wages for public-sector workers gained 4.1 percent on average, increasing $46 a week, from $1,116 to $1,162.

Among all industries in Nevada, weekly wages have fallen 7.8 percent, from $872 to $804. In the beleaguered construction sector, the emphasis seems to have been on layoffs rather than wage reductions: The industry shed 36,400 positions in 2008 and 2009, but pay dropped just 0.8 percent, from $1,111 to $1,102.

In Nevada’s No. 1 employment category, leisure and hospitality, weekly wages dipped 6.9 percent, to $552. Even in education and health services — the only employment category to add jobs during the downturn — pay trended south, posting a 0.9 percent decline to $896.

Representatives with the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees didn’t return calls seeking comment before press time.

But Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the employment department’s numbers fail to offer a complete picture of trends in public-worker salaries.

"What are the numbers for teacher salaries? What are the numbers for school driver salaries? You will find they are quite different than firefighters or police," she wrote in an e-mail requesting an interview.

The pay differences between educators and firefighters are sizable: Teachers in Nevada earned $48,257 a year in 2008, while Las Vegas firefighters average $110,000 a year.

Neither group has offered pay concessions to help state and local agencies close budget shortfalls.

Some government workers could soon see leaner paychecks, though. The city of Las Vegas said Thursday that it would let go of 171 employees in June unless workers agreed to 8 percent wage rollbacks to help the municipality close a $70 million budget gap.

And the Metropolitan Police Department’s fiscal 2011 budget, released Monday, includes a 4.8 percent drop in spending compared with the previous year. The budget doesn’t include layoffs, but it will slash 172 positions, including 30 vacant police officer jobs. Sheriff Doug Gillespie said the department’s employee unions might also make compensation concessions, with negotiations under way now.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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