Tri-Cities workers make more per hour than Yakima workers

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Money is always a hot topic, and KEPR learned most people in the Tri-Cities are making more than people in Yakima. They make up to $5 more per hour on average. Still, our salaries are lower than other spots. We looked at the reasons why.

Johnny Gutierrez and Jacqueline Garcia came all the way from Sunnyside to the Columbia Basin WorkSource to look for jobs. Currently, both people work at fast food restaurants. They each want to do something else.

"Something that requires hands-on work," said Gutierrez.

When KEPR informed them the average hourly wage is nearly five dollars more in the Tri-Cities than Yakima, they weren't completely surprised.

"That's why we're moving here," said Garcia. "First we were looking into Yakima, and it was just really hard to get a job there."

The average hourly wage for a person in Tri-Cities is $23.57 an hour. In Yakima, it's $19.13. Both are below the state average of $26.90. Our regional labor economist blames the difference on the industry base. Yakima's jobs are focused in agriculture and food manufacturing. Tri-Cities has a large percentage of jobs related to Hanford and healthcare.

"So agriculture, on average, brings in about $24,000 a year, where for example, Hanford is over $80,000 a year. So that contributes to overall average wage or median household income brought in," said regional labor economist Ajsa Suljic.

Suljic says, generally, Tri-Cities and Yakima have seen an increase in wages year to year.

"We did see a slowdown in Tri-Cities in 2011-2012, a downturn from Hanford layoff," she said.

She says a lack of stability at Hanford has affected wages.

"The biggest loss for our area are the wages. We lose from those jobs cut from Hanford," said Suljic.

But Suljic says we are in a slow recovery process, expecting about a dollar an hour increase for both communities next year. Garcia and Gutierrez hope that's the case.

"We would just rather move here and work here than go over there and get paid less for the same type of work," said Garcia.

Suljic says jobs such as office manager, clerk, or even bartender make a dollar more per hour in Tri-Cities than in Yakima because of the overall wage difference.