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March 26, 2015


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But we R building "great" freeways?

Side-note: new reply to wkg here:


Rogue wrote:

"I leave you with the mystery of this Census report that appears to show Maricopa County making both gains and losses during the recession and its aftermath. I hate to impose, but if Emil cares to untangle this I would appreciate it."

From what I can see of the map legend, all central Arizona counties (medium blue in the first map) made gains in population growth in 2006 and 2014. The second map changes the legend and the coloring scheme, so that central Arizona counties are now light blue; and the "other" is consistent with gains in both years (as shown in the first map).

Rogue wrote:

"So where do all these people work? It's the eternal question, even with the migrants heavily weighted toward sun-seeking retirees. As of January, the total non-farm workforce had not recovered to its August 2007 peak, even though population has grown."

Maricopa county, probably. It's been adding jobs quite handily. The mystery might be cleared up if you specify the following for both the peak and today:

* population

* labor force

* total employment

I'm on a 15 minute library computer and have to run now. Until Saturday I won't be able to open PDF or other funny files from my mobile.

P.S. Sorting out the net-migration component of population growth from the birth-related component of population growth is also necessary.

It's not enough, however, since it's always possible that net migration affected the state's age distribution. For example, if a lot of young men (without children, or with small families) working construction jobs left for Texas, and a lot of new migrants to the state have little kids and/or are retirees, that's going to change the equation too. Population includes everyone from infant to the elderly, and not all are seeking work. (See comment about labor force versus total employment, above.)

Note that this could even happen in a way that leaves the average age the same or close to the same, since the oldsters and the kids could offset each other.

Sorry I can't spend an hour sorting this out, but as I said, I have to run. If I can get WI-FI later I'll have a look but won't be able to do any research involving PDF files and the like.

The Big Sort. Most Americans don't follow politics closely enough to distinguish between state governments. For example, migrants moving to Texas for fossil fuel related work aren't initially thinking about state politics. Once in the state or working in the oil industry they may become more Republican in political views as those views support their livelihood and allows them to fit in to the community.

Other than the retirees, most migrants who move to Arizona for real estate growth related work adopt Republican values whose policies support the real estate sprawl growth. No doubt new residents who move for employment reasons to the Bay Area or King County adopt Democratic values which better support a consumer lead economy benefiting the technology industry.

The Big Sort theme has it backward claiming that most people move to another state with the state's politics as the primary motivating factor. A state's politics is a derivative of its primary industries and the employment migrant is moving for job opportunities.

Lacking any real data to work with, I’ll do what comes naturally (and is fun) and make up my own. Maybe Emil can dig up some nice juicy data. First concerning the raw numbers quoted by RC:
- Census estimates can be wildly inaccurate. That’s not to say to blow them off but to be cautious about their use.
- You wish that the number where -85K rather than +85K. It is plane to see that the metro is way too big (given the water resources). The best that could happen would be for 2 or 3 million just to move someplace else.
- The one year numbers (2013-14) for Phoenix: Natural increase +29.3K, domestic migration +41.1K international migration +10.7K.
- I suspect the international migration number is bigger. How do you count people who don’t want to be counted?
Interesting numbers from the Census report: net domestic immigration (2010-2014)
Chicago - 227K
Detroit -90K
Hartford -27K
LA -208K
Memphis -21K
Milwaukee -23K
Philly -75K
NYC -529K
Phoenix +119K

At first, found it surprising that LA had such a big negative number. But upon reflecting, I guess it’s not all that surprising after all. The decline of the area into the depths in almost every statistical measure. Truly the capital of the “New Appalachia”.

Speculating on who’s coming and who’s leaving: going to guess-

Arriving: retired Midwesterners (particularly Chicago), destitute Latin Americans, rural South-Westerners.

Leaving: Best and brightest of recent HS/College grads. Middle-class families who have given up on the area. Those with highly transferable skills. (RC would be a good example). Going to guess the main destinations are Denver, Seattle, SF/San Jose, Dallas and Houston. Maybe Salt Lake.

I’m a contrarian on the “Big Sort” idea. Rather than talent driving the economy, I think good/bad economies attract/repel talent. I don’t think anyone moves to Houston for the fine weather (I think there’s more culture than you give it credit for).

On balance, the migration pattern (assuming it’s correct) is not a good one for Phoenix. It does nothing but make a bad situation worse. Economically, I can think of a few things to make it less bad (e.g. discourage immigration of the destitute – fat chance of that) and nothing to make it significantly better. There are a lot of things that could make the region a nicer place to live; albeit with low to moderate incomes.

HI Jon,
My family has been involved with saving historic properties in downtown Phoenix since 1973. Of course many great properties have been lost like the Fox Theater ( see my brother Robert's book called 'Vanishing Phoenix' for many sad examples of what should have been saved). I am curious what steps you feel would be needed to help make the historic center of Phoenix become more like downtown Seattle or San Diego?

First, my thanks to your family.

It is difficult to make comparisons with San Diego because Phoenix allowed the tear-downs of so many buildings that now would be cool. The blight and land-banked, up-zoned empty lots are a huge barrier. By contrast, San Diego saved Gaslamp and slowly rehabbed it; Denver saved LoDo. Phoenix didn't have such great bones, but it had some -- now demolished in an astonishingly short-sighted act of civic malpractice.

I lived/worked in San Diego when downtown was being turned around. Success was not inevitable -- the old establishment had decided to move the center of commerce to Mission Valley and focus the city on Mission Bay. Downtown could be government and drunks.

The turnaround came because of a strong, downtown-focused mayor in Pete Wilson, who was a failed governor but probably the best mayor SD ever had. He had some partners in the private sector with real power and capital, particularly Ernest Hahn who went on to develop Horton Plaza.

Policy helped -- building the trolley, relocating the rail yard to open up prime office and hotel space, and tax-increment financing. I remember when SD sold bonds for its part of Horton Plaza, Hahn pledged to buy them himself if there were no demand in the capital markets. It wasn't necessary, but that's a steward. Also, Wilson fought the powerful Mission Valley malls, which didn't want shopping to return downtown.

It's a long story, but can be boiled down to leadership, private-sector power, good policy. Plus, good bones.

As I have written before, downtown must attract more private-sector investment, headquarters and unique businesses. The central core needs its own eco-devo agency. Otherwise, the fringes will continue to suck Phoenix dry.

Off to church you go or not you go to jail.
Another effort in Arizona to ensure educated young folks want to stay in AZ. Well at least young boys on bicycles spreading the "truth"!


I've always thought of Arizona as a sort of chain link fence on the edge of a vast prairie, catching whatever trash blows its way. Of course, there's always a bit of treasure in that trash. But for the most part, it's just trash.

A possible answer to your question about the total non-farm workforce not recovering to its August 2007 peak, even though population has grown: The underground cash economy. It's not just for illegals anymore. In my work, I encounter people almost daily who keep a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and drive the obligatory personal vehicle -- all with money earned off the radar of the IRS. It seems that we're following the example of nations like Greece, where this sort of tax evasion has run rampant for decades.

Kevin is right about "underground cash" income.
in addition to his observations
have you not noted the huge amount of Cartel investment in metropolitan arizona. I bet some of the resturants don't even have a kitchen.

The current Arizona legislature is on a speedy course to pass legislation to have no rules but gods and enforced by county sheriff's and religious elders.
And they are pushing to privatize (with no government regulation) as much as possible as they continue to sell off state buildings. Look for the Grand Canyon to be sold to a
Uranium mining company and State Parks to Amway.

Good points Cal and Kevin.

For those of you who noticed 'Kevin in Preskitt'. Preskitt is the provincial pronunciation of Prescott. Thanks Kevin.

Also, while Ducey is cutting funding for education and healthcare, he increased funding for prisons and churches (because they "do good").
And our legislature debates 'God' and 'His' given rights to carry a gun. It says so in the Constitution.

Believe it or not, Texas avoided the worst of the housing collapse, in part because of strict regulations which limited home equity loans. In other states (like Arizona) negative equity drove defaults, which brought unemployment as the economy floundered and in turn more defaults.

The other thing that saved Texas was how rapidly new construction occurred. The high supply of available housing prevented the price bubbles that occurred elsewhere.

So, construction workers in Arizona had a huge market for their services in Texas.

Also, despite its fierce"secure the border" rhetoric, in actual practice Texas still plays the don't ask don't tell game, unlike Arizona which passed some scary anti-illegal immigrant laws that gave police carte blanc to play immigration enforcement agent under the guise of investigating minor traffic infractions (real or invented). I think the business community there has a better handle on law enforcement (never heard of a Sherrif Joe show there, at least not in the main counties).


U think the big business arizona Republicans are happy with the current Sylvia Allen type republicans. She is the current female version of Russell Pearce. White Theocracy is name of the AZ game.

I'll disagree with wkg and the conventional wisdom here, and argue that strong migration to Maricopa County is good for the local economy and drives its large job growth.

Migrants spend money on food, lodging, and transportation while seeking employment. Retirees have lower average incomes but more savings, some of which goes into housing, car purchases, caregivers, and the like.

All of that money injected into the local economy is a growth in demand for goods and services, which drives more hiring. The jobs may not be all that great on average, but a growth in population and in sales of goods and services means a need for more professionals, managers, and administrative office workers, as well as more repairmen, technicians, and the like; so there is some decent derivative job creation too.

You can call this a Ponzi scheme if you like: the issue of funding infrastructure is separate, but I suggest that a growing tax base could accomplish improvement if only the legislature would collect taxes instead of cutting them. Increases in sales taxes that do not offset cuts in business and other income taxes, or which merely offset them without increasing revenue to meet population growth, will result in further public sector erosion, with all that implies in a growing city. The need for revenue improvements is in fact greater than this, because of the extent to which public infrastructure (including schools) has already fallen behind.

Regarding the mystery of the disconnect between population and employment levels (pre-recession peak versus now), one possibility is that apples are being compared to oranges: statewide employment level statistics are the apple: but most net in-migration and job creation has been to/in Maricopa County and (to a lesser extent the Tucson area). The rest of the state is not doing so well. So, it's important to sort out and separate the variables.

In December 2014 the Arizona unemployment rate was 6.6 percent, well above the U.S. average of 5.6 percent; but in Maricopa County it was only 5.4 percent, which is slightly below the U.S. average.


Taking a closer look at the Census map Rogue linked to, and deciphering the shifting legends and colors schemes of the two maps, it's now clear to me that most of the state's outlying counties gained population in 2006 but lost it (relative to 2006) as of 2014. One geographically large northern county lost population both years.

By contrast, the central counties and a few of the outlying counties gained population in both years.

Of course, there could have been some inter-county migration as well as interstate migration.

(Sorry I didn't sort this out better earlier, but I was under fierce time pressure on a 15 minute computer.)

According to BLS, in 2007 Maricopa County had a labor force of 1,945,290; total employment was 1,881,907; 63,383 unemployed; and an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent.


The same source shows that for 2013 (latest data from that BLS source, sorry), Maricopa County had a labor force of 1,921,898; total employment was 1,795,470; there were 126,428 unemployed; and the unemployment rate was 6.6 percent.


Now, you'll notice that, even as of 2013, the average size of the labor force was almost recovered, only slightly more than 23,000 short of the pre-recession peak. But the total number of employed was 87,000 less in 2013 than in 2007.

As mentioned in a separate comment above, Maricopa County's unemployment rate is 5.4 percent as of December 2014; so it's still higher than the 3.3 percent of 2007.

I don't have the latest county labor force and employment figures, but it's reasonable to assume, given the continuing inmigration since 2013, that both the labor force and total employment in Maricopa County have grown; probably both figures are higher in 2015 than in 2007; but a smaller percentage of the labor force is employed, hence the higher unemployment rate.

P.S. Incidentally, this implies that a continuing(?) total employment and/or labor force deficit results from losses in counties elsewhere in the state.

I've always thought of Arizona as a sort of chain link fence on the edge of a vast prairie, catching whatever trash blows its way. Of course, there's always a bit of treasure in that trash. But for the most part, it's just trash.

Wow. It's that's your take on your fellow Americans, one can only wonder at the esteem you give Arabs, dogs, and illegal Mexican immigrants.

Snob patrol: were you in Arizona in the '80's, when Phoenix was where the action was? Every grifter and two-bit huckster from Des Moines to Dallas rolled through town. The state had to pass a stronger law against passing bad checks, and the Attorney General's office began vigorously prosecuting the check-bouncers. And can you honestly say you're never critical of your fellow Americans? How's that working out for you?

Chain link fence analogy doesn't work. Our prevailing winds are out of the southwest.

....were you in Arizona in the '80's, when Phoenix was where the action was? Every grifter and two-bit huckster from Des Moines to Dallas rolled through town...

So your comment wasn't met to capture current innocent Americans coming to the Southwest to retire and shovel sunlight. And perhaps golf. Rather it was meant -- very specifically -- to mean a particular decade and just the particular crooks of that decade.


Suggestion: Build that essential into your post next time. It will make you seem less a hater with grievances to grind.

WKG suggested 2 million less folks in Phoenix.
How about 6 million less in AZ and a Wilderness designation?

SW prevailing winds? The Seri will be back!

You can grind an axe, but I'm pretty sure you can't grind a grievance.
Phoenix has always been a magnet for cons of every type, just a bit more so during the 1980's, mainly because of the anonymity and opportunity provided by highly transient boomtowns. It's continued on as one of those places where hustlers who can't get by in L.A. land, stay awhile, wear out their welcome, and move on to the next town. People who live in these kinds of towns are well aware of it. Now stop behaving as though the poster known as Kevin was insulting you personally. Wait, he wasn't, was he?

In the 50's a Phoenix cop got officer of the year for his large number of felony arrests. He attributed his success to primarly stopping vehicles from Illinois, New York and New Jersey.
(Read Chicago, New York City and Hudson County).

Former Arizona Republic Investigative Reporter Al Sitter maintained that Arizona Federal Law enforcement put most of thier Organized Crime bad guy informants into protected witness into hiding in AZ.

You can grind an axe, but I'm pretty sure you can't grind a grievance.

Your being "pretty sure" is exactly the problem. You got a brain filled with half-formed fluff you accept in a "pretty sure" sort of absolutist way.

So yes: You can grind a grievance if you aren't locked into one particular definition of "grind". Helping hint going forward: Think of grind here as my heel working your exposed thoughts, like a stub of a cig into the ground.

To wit, let me attack this bit of half-witted nonsense:

It's continued on as one of those places where hustlers who can't get by in L.A. land...

Do you actually believe these weak, empty-headed generalizations? Or are you just spewing stupid for the sake of it? Or do you actually imagine a hustler running this hustle:

"Calling all hustlers within a mile circumference of Hollywood and Vine! Since we can't make it here, let's pick up and take our graft to Phoenix since we can't make it here. All aboard!"

Yeah. Sure. You nailed that one. Good thinking. lol.

Lol? Why do people use that stupid abbreviation? You aren't "laughingout loud." What has your britches all bunched up? Nothing you said made a bit of sense, but I'm sure you think you made some kind of point. And no, you don't seem to have a flair for metaphors.

The strange case of the “Golden State”.

Until recent times, California held an almost mythical image in the US. It was viewed as the land of milk and honey. Everything and anything was possible there. It was an almost irresistible attractor.

In my own case, as a child we would watch the Mickey Mouse Club on weekday afternoons. Sunday was the Disney Hour. Later as a tween, it was the Frankie and Annette Surf Movies. Then the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, et al. The place, especially Southern Cali was magical.

Something happened, starting somewhere in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. It became a great place to be very rich or very poor. For everybody else, it was almost hostile. There are many theories on this and I don’t want to get into this here/now.

The state (and a huge one at that) can be divided into three rough areas: Northern Cali, Southern Cali and the Sacramento Valley.

California Metro net domestic migration (4/1/10 to 7/1/14)
Bakersfield …….. -9.9
El Centro ………. -7.7
Los Angles ……..-208.6
Oxnard ………….- 7.8
Rvrside/San B …. +37.2
San Diego ……… +3.3
Santa Barb……... -0.5
(A note on Riverside/San Bernardino. It is just east of L.A. Many working class Angelinos – mostly Hispanic – have moved to R/SB so they could afford a house. R/SB is, by far, the poorest Metro greater than 1,000,000 in the US.

Fresno…………..- 13.8
Hanford ………..- 11.4
Merced ……….. -2.8
Modesto ……… -4.4
Sacramento …… + 15.7
Stockton ………. + 0.3
Visalia ………… - 7.2
Yuba ………….. - 5.2

Napa …………. +2.0
Redding ……… +1.3
Salinas…………. -6.2
San Francisco.... +49.3 (Some of this from San J?)
San Jose ……… -15.3 (Priced out of the neighborhood?)
Santa Cruz …… + 1.8
Santa Rosa …… +8.1
Vallejo ……….. +2.1

The numbers clearly show that Cali has lost whatever luster it had in the past. Despite the great wealth of the bay area, the numbers for it are “tepid” at best.

The long running draught in the Southwest will add to the headwinds Southern Cali faces in the future. Fortunately, it has a pretty good pool of human capital – if it can find a way to use it.

@Emil RE: “I'l disagree with wkg and the conventional wisdom here, and argue that strong migration to Maricopa County is good for the local economy and drives its large job growth.”

Well can’t argue with that. But that says more about Phoenix’s economy than anything else. They do stimulate job growth – they just aren’t very good ones.



Which tabulates a cost-adjusted per-capita incomes for 52 metro areas (greater than 1 million population) in the US. An aside: I seem to recall reading that Tucson has joined the ranks in recent times. Rounding out the bottom of the list were:
Phoenix, AZ $36,155 49
Orlando, FL $35,267 50
Las Vegas, NV $35,053 51
Riverside-San Bernardino, CA $28,472 52

Riverside-San Bernardino is a sad story in itself – and one worth getting into – but irrelevant to the issue.

Note that Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas all have tourism oriented economies. Phoenix and Orlando also are big retirement destinations. For all I know, Las Vegas may be too.

Tourism and retirement are indeed, big employment providers. One would almost ask: “would these cities exist without them?” In the case of Orlando and Phoenix the answer would be yes – but they’d be much smaller places. (Another aside: the parallels between Orlando and Phoenix are amazing.)

This is not to say tourism is a bad business to be in; but it can’t be your only business. NYC and Washington enjoy a significant tourism sector. Houston and Atlanta have almost non-existent tourism sectors. Would anyone ever go to Toronto for vacation?

A positive for the industry is that it probably provides for some dining, shopping and entertainment options that wouldn’t be available to residents otherwise.

About the best you can say for tourism is: “it’s better than nothing.”

wkg You forgot Number 4
Silicon Valley about to become a state of its own.

I'm stuck on mobile until Tuesday wkg so can't read your link (which my mobile downloads then refuses to open).

One thing you might post now is the year of the data (not the year of publication) as well as the source used by Demographia.

You might also keep handy my previous explanation of why per capital income is a poor measure for comparison given Phoenix's extremely large number of Hispanic children (all of whom count as heads in per capita without contributing any income and who therefore drag down the per capita income average). Nothing specific to Hispanics as such, by the way, just their age demographics in Phoenix (and to a lesser but still significant extent in Arizona as a whole).

Median household income in Maricopa County is higher than the U.S. average by the way. I don't have the link handy by mobile but posted it just a few threads back. Stuff to do before closing time so ttfn.

Rogue wrote:

"But I remain skeptical that the Legacy Extraction Growth Machine — with championship golf! — has one more run left in it. If it does, another tragedy awaits."

It has one more run left in it. (Still plenty of state trust land available for sale.) Heck, it probably has another two or three runs left in it.

And, yes, another tragedy awaits.

Rogue also wrote:

"So where do all these people work?"

The usual places: call centers and retail. And in immense distribution centers, where you wait line half an hour on your own nickel so that your employer can frisk you before he lets you go home.

OK Emil, let’s try this one: Weekly earnings from BLS Feb, 2015 (of course – this is for people who are working)
Large metro areas (with my estimate of COL)

Atlanta ………….936.33….low
Dallas ……….1,009.43….low
San Fran……..1,221.20…..high
Boston ………1,115.81…..high
Washington…..1,205.50….med - high
Philly ………...941.54….med
Miami ………...805.55…..med

Orlando 800.72
Las Vegas 718.08

Ref for posting above


Re crappy jobs Phoenix follows national trends. Manufacturing was once the primary means of working class upward mobility, but while U.S. manufacturing output is high most manufacturing jobs have been automated or outsourced. Most private sector jobs are nonunion service jobs.

I don't know of a single major metro area where more than a fraction of new private sector jobs require a scientific or professional degree. There are always a lot more retail help positions and sales jobs.

The economy these days is like machine where grease, ball bearings, nuts and bolts are common and high powered gear wheels much less so.

Re weekly pay I need a PC not a mobile to do research and convenient cut, paste and composition. I will point out that wages are higher in Boston, SF, D.C., etc., because those cities are much more expensive and even nonunion labor commands a different wage scale. Southern California is also expensive and L.A. includes a lot of wealthy suburbs.

Why are you surprised that pay scales are higher back East and in CA or in oil rich Dallas or lawyer rich D.C.?

Also note that "right to work" laws often mean right to be exploited, though as private sector unions wither away this makes less of a difference. I don't have to tell you that public sector unions are both the last gasp of American unionism and increasingly under fire from Republicans and other business symbiotes.

I don’t think these would be called “back East and in CA or in oil rich Dallas or lawyer rich D.C.”

Huntsville Al……944.28
Idaho Falls………1,026.63
Columbus, Ind…..1,043.82
Minn/St P………..921.38
Durham/CH N.C. 966.69

"So where do all these people work?"

Well, that is a loaded question, but I've found some information for the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix metro area. Unlike Arizona as a state, Walmart is not the largest employer for the city/metro area. The employment profiles look like this:

1. Management, Professional, related 30.9%
2. Sales and Office Occupations 29.1%
3. Service Occupations 15.9% (these include child care, community services, protective service, personal service, and food service workers)
4. Education, Health, and Social Services 15%
5. Professional science and waste management services 12.5% (interesting category)
Source: http://tinyurl.com/qxl6m74

The Top 20 Employers in the City of Phoenix (defined by employees working at a single location/address) from largest to smallest:
Banner Health, Apollo Group, Honeywell, American Express, St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Bank of America, Uhaul International, Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab, Mayo Clinic, Amazon.com, JP Morgan Chase, USAA, U.S. Airways, VA Medical Center, John C. Lincoln Health Network, Discover Financial Services, Phoenix Children's Hospital, Maricopa Integrated Health Systems, and Pinnacle West Capital Corporation
Source: http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

*Walmart would be Phoenix's 17th largest employer if all employees worked in a single location (based on 8 Walmart locations throughout Phoenix with an average of 281 employees at each store).

For the metro area, the findings are similar (occupation and number of employees):

Metro Phoenix:
1. Office and Administrative 326,400
2. Sales Professionals 216,040
3. Food Prep and Serving 170,820
4. Business and Financial Operations 99,840
5. Healthcare Practitioners/Tech 95,920
Source: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_38060.htm

It is interesting to note that there are only 67,090 direct retail sales employees. However, there are subcategories that should be added together to get a real sense of the retail industry. Adding to the 67,090 retail workers are 39,150 cashiers and 19,160 retail managers. Together, the retail segment of the economy in metro Phoenix employs 125,400 people.

If you only consider the 67,090 retail workers then this segment is about the size of the Computer and Mathematical occupations at 66,260 and smaller than the Production Occupations with 82,200 employees (this segments includes occupations that range from Engine Assemblers to Plastics Manufacturers and Dressmakers). Computer and Mathematical occupations range from Computer and Information Research Scientists to Computer Programmers to Computer Network Architects and Mathematical Technicians.
Source: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes150000.htm

@Emil re ‘I don't have to tell you that public sector unions are both the last gasp of American unionism and increasingly under fire from Republicans and other business symbiotes.”

First, thanks for the new word (symbiotes). Can’t say I’ll being using it much, but always good to know what others are talking about.

Ran across this the other day:

Arizona pension problems


Symbiotes could be expanding to include everyone who pays taxes.

A couple of link corrections:

For Phoenix employment, the correct link for the FactFinder page on the Census Bureau site is:

For the listing of the top employers in the City of Phoenix, the correct site is:

Great job, phxSUNSfan! Wish I had done it. A long and nuanced reply just destroyed by my balky mobile before I could get it posted. Will try again tonight on regular PC time permitting or tomorrow if not.

No PC access tonight; library closed for Caesar Chavez holiday.

wkg, you can't just cherry-pick cities to compare to Phoenix without considering differences.

Hunstville's cost of living compares to Phoenix, but it is "the center of rocket-propulsion research in the U.S. with many aerospace and defense contractors’ facilities located in the area. The city is home to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which is located at the nearby Redstone Arsenal."

Huntsville is also way above most of the Alabama cities in your BLS list (and most Alabama cities are way below Phoenix in weekly earnings).


Denver is 10 percent more expensive to live in than Phoenix. Admittedly that doesn't explain the 18 percent higher weekly earnings as of February 2015 (but see comments below).


Ditto, Idaho Falls, which is WAY above most of Idaho cities, as well as Phoenix. Idaho Falls is a small town 56,000 as of the 2010 Census); the metro area isn't a whole lot bigger and it's 92.45 percent White. (Compare Gilbert, Arizona.)

Beyond that, there is something odd going on. Idaho Falls (the city proper) has a lower median hourly wage AND a lower mean hourly wage than Phoenix, as well as a lower annual mean wage. Way lower.

Idaho Falls:




Also, the Idaho Falls metro area had weekly average private-sector earnings of just $648.43 in December 2014, just two months before your BLS figure.


I don't know if Idaho Falls has a super-strong public sector or something else is going on. It's mystifying and I don't have unlimited unline time to unravel this. Nor do I have time to go down your list and deal with every city you name one by one. This is illustrative.

We can compare Phoenix to the national average. In February 2015 the U.S. average weekly earnings was $857.39. The figure you gave for Phoenix for the same month was $847.12. That's pretty damned closed to the national average.


The real problem with weekly earnings when comparing metro areas, especially the seasonally unadjusted variety, is that it's volatile and depends not only on wages but also average weekly hours. Average weekly wages are average hourly wage times average hours worked per week.

Phoenix adds a lot of new jobs. It's high in job growth. The tendency among employers is to expand employment first with part-time, then with full-time workers, as needed. Part-time employees bring down the weekly average hours.

Seasonal changes can also do this. Phoenix has a huge number of customer service jobs, as well as lots of order fulfillment centers (warehouses that ship or otherwise process orders). Seasonal job growth means a lot of temp and part-time, which can drag down seasonally unadjusted weekly earnings by lowering the average weekly hours worked.

Finally, I think that average weekly earnings use mean rather than median wages. So, a comparatively small number of much higher earners can raise the weekly wage average for a city, compared to another city. This can be because of higher (unionized) employment levels or pay scales, higher state minimum wage, or higher paid specialty employment areas (e.g., lots of technicians or lawyers or engineers, etc.).

The bottom line is that as of February 2015, BLS says Phoenix (its definition of the Phoenix Metro Area) is about the same as the U.S. average when it comes to weekly average wages.

@Emil: Yes the 2nd list of cities/wages was cherry picked. Only to demostrate that pockets of high wages existed besides "oil rich......" cities.

I think my first list of "large" cities is better. These wrer for really big cities. Like more than 3 or 4 million. Seattle and Denver are big. But are they really big - Phoenix big? Aside from Miami, the Phoenix number is only so-so.

I am firmly in the belief that wages are good, but need to look at COL too. I'd much rather make $850/week and live in Phoenix than $1035/week and try to get by in NYC.

I'm not happy with the BLS wage numbers either. They don't seem to line up with anecdotal evidence.

In any case, the Phoenix numbers look not all that bad. Not great but alot better than you'd think given the comments at this blog.

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