Median wages in Nevada and nearby states (in case you were wondering)

so there you go
"Now Hiring" sign for Denny's restaurant. Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
so there you go
“Now Hiring” sign for Denny’s restaurant. Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

You probably already know this, being a reader of the Current and all, but just in case: Median wage is the wage at which half of workers earn less, and half of workers earn more. It is generally considered a much more relevant measure than average wages, because averages are so easily skewed by, as an example, a mere handful of overpaid resort industry poohbahs.

Last month the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a series of wage data statistics for every state. The data is for May 2018, which evidently is the freshest stuff BLS could put together and still include all the states. It’s not as if Trump’s tax cuts have been driving wages through the roof, so 11-month old data will probably do, for our purposes, anyway.

Here are median hourly wages in Nevada and some nearby states as of May 2018.

 Median wage (May 2018)Current minimum wageScheduled minimum wage increases
California20.4012.00$15 by 2022
Colorado20.3411.10$12 by 2020
Oregon19.0310.75$12 in 2020
Arizona17.8011.00$12 in 2020
Utah17.697.25None
Nevada17.098.25
(7.25 if insurance coverage)
Not yet
Idaho16.477.25None

I was surprised that Colorado’s median was almost the same as California’s. That may be because I witnessed Nevada’s 2018 political campaign and still assume that everything about California is otherworldly and not echoed anywhere, certainly not in a state so politely rectangle-shaped as Colorado.

But probably more trenchant, to Nevada, anyway, are the minimum-to-median ratios. The Center for Equitable Growth has noted that the ratio has gone down nationally over the years, from minimum wages equaling a little more than 50 percent of the median in the 1970s, to 39 percent more recently.

Nevada’s minimum (the $8.25 wage, which is the more common of Nevada’s silly two-tiered minimum wage structure) was 48 percent of the median in 2018, and there are at least a couple ways to look at that.

On the one hand, you could say hooray, because maybe that means inequality isn’t as pronounced in Nevada as it is nationally. Alas, curb your exuberance. A 2018 report ranked Nevada the fourth most unequal state in the nation when it comes to income distribution.

Alternatively, Nevada’s relatively high minimum-to-median ratio may merely reflect low wages overall in the state. Nevada’s recovery from the crash is nationally renowned as a low-wage affair. “Places like Las Vegas … have seen their growth on the back of very low-wage jobs, so in a sense they’re growing poorer as they grow,” Paula Flora of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said late last year.

Legislation to raise Nevada’s top minimum wage (the $8.25 one) to $12 by 2023 has passed a committee and was granted a deadline waiver. i.e., it’s alive. (And as someone declared the day after the November election, if a Democratic governor and Democratically controlled Legislature don’t pass a minimum wage bill this session, they should all resign.)

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

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