Yuma wages well below state, national averages
Community making efforts to turn that around through education
Click here to view 2nd quarter wage report from Bureau of Labor Statistics
A report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that lists Yuma County's weekly wages near the bottom for Arizona and well below the state and national averages comes as no surprise.
It also represents the challenge faced by those who try to create new jobs for the area and put people to work at a living wage.
The BLS report posted last week on the agency's website noted that only two of Arizona's 15 counties reported wages above the national average of $903 for the second quarter of 2012.
Leading the state with an average weekly wage of $1,022 was Greenlee County, home of the Morenci Mine, the largest copper mining operation in North America. The average weekly wage in Maricopa County was $905.
Two other counties in the state reported wages from $800 to $899, five had wages from $700 to $799 and six counties reported average weekly wages under $700.
That included Yuma County, which had an average weekly wage of $668 for the second quarter of 2012.
Only three other counties in Arizona reported a lower wage. At the bottom of the list is La Paz County, with an average weekly wage of $604. Mohave County's average wage was $650 and Yavapai County's average was $665.
“Yuma has always been seen as a lower wage area,” said Patrick Goetz, business services officer for Yuma Private Industry Council, the area's work force development agency.
Yuma also chronically has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at nearly 30 percent.
But many of the unemployed lack the training, skills and certification to fill the better paying jobs that are available, Goetz said. He noted that companies with the need for more skilled labor come to job fairs, only to leave empty-handed because they can't find qualified applicants.
Not only do available jobs go wanting for a lack of qualified applicants, it also means the area has trouble attracting companies that offer better paying jobs, said Julie Engel, president and CEO of Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation.
“We continue to be the destination for the lower-paying jobs,” she said. “We have to have a higher skilled work force to attract better-paying jobs.”
On the other hand, the lack of higher-skilled jobs drives young people to leave the community to seek careers elsewhere. And others who come to Yuma as the spouses of military and professionals often are unable to find a job here to match their skills.
Engel cited as an example a military spouse who was a forensic expert, but there are no job opportunities in Yuma for that field as the work is all done in Phoenix.
The answer to the area's high unemployment and low wages is education, Engel and Goetz agreed.
“It's not just finding people jobs,” Goetz said, “but get them qualified for careers.”
Finding a job with a career path takes more training, he said, “but that doesn't always mean college. It can be technical training and certification. We need more focus on education.”
Engel noted that the community has made some strides, such as the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math) program now being offered by Yuma Union High School District in partnership with Arizona Western College. The college in partnership with the University of Arizona also is making it easier for Yumans to pursue college degrees in such fields as engineering. Meanwhile, Crane Elementary School District is opening the Gowan Science Academy in the fall to focus on the sciences in the lower grades.
A turnaround won't happen overnight, Goetz said.
But the efforts demonstrate to existing and potential industries that the community is committed to growing its own skilled work force, Engel concluded.