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New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the Jefferson City metropolitan area lags behind the national average in worker compensation across tracked occupations.

Local workers receive anywhere from 1 to 33 percent less per hour in pay than the average U.S. employee in their field, according to the data, which includes occupations ranging from engineering to sales to farming.

Wage data reflects employee pay from May 2020 in the Jefferson City metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, which contains Cole, Callaway, Moniteau and Osage counties.

Jefferson City's average hourly wage for all occupations was $22.52, about 17 percent lower than the national average of $27.07. The area's average was lower than Columbia but higher than Cape Girardeau, Joplin and St. Joseph.

The gap between the area's pay and national averages could be reflective of its lower cost of living, said Gary Plummer, Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce CEO and president.

The Missouri Economic and Research Information Center reported the state's cost of living was the ninth-lowest in the nation during the first quarter for 2021 — a trend that has been consistent over the last four years. Within the state, Jefferson City had the third-lowest cost of living of MSAs and a lower index value than the state average.

With that in mind, Plummer is optimistic about the salary report when compared with similar metropolitan areas.

"Looking at how we compare with the other medium-sized MSAs around the state, I thought we actually compete pretty well," he said. "Knowing how much the state employment probably dominates our total number, I felt like Jefferson City competed pretty well with our peer cities."

Two categories of success were production and construction, where Jefferson City was only 1 and 2 percent lower than the national average for those occupations — the highest relative wages of any occupation in the area.

Plummer called that "very encouraging" in an important portion of the local economy.

"Those are fairly significant employers in our area, when we look at health care, manufacturing, production and construction," he said, pointing to rebuilding following the 2019 tornado that affected Jefferson City as a potential booster for construction jobs.

Local workers in computer and mathematical fields had the lowest relative wages, making 33 percent less an hour than the national average in their occupation. That's where Jefferson City's high proportion of government employees could factor in, Plummer said.

"That may be that most of our jobs are in the public sector, and the (public) sector historically doesn't compete that well with the private sector," he said.

In June, the Missouri Economic Information and Research Center released data on wages for each Missouri county that wasn't broken down by occupation. In that list, Callaway County had the ninth-highest, Cole County was 14th, Moniteau County was 32nd and Osage County was 37th — and the latter two counties experienced some of the highest gains in the state.

Worker pay could continue increasing locally due to labor shortages, too.

"Our manufacturing base has been pretty steady as well," Plummer said. "Right now their growth is strong, and their probably chief concern is finding workers to fill some of the jobs that they need to continue that growth."

Callaway County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tamara Tateosian said pay isn't the only factor local businesses use in attracting employees.

"You see (job postings due to the shortage) on billboards and everything every single day," she said. "Money is important, too, but job satisfaction is really important. We have a lot of really great owners and companies here in our community that they just make it a great place to work."

Full data on average wages and salaries in Jefferson City and other areas is available at bls.gov/regions/mountain-plains/news-release/2021/occupationalemploymentandwages_jeffersoncity_20210719.htm.

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