Manufacturing workers in area see wage gains

April 24, 1993|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

Manufacturing workers in the Baltimore area saw their earnings rise faster last year than did manufacturing workers in the nation as a whole, figures released yesterday by the federal government show.

Manufacturing wages, adjusted for inflation, rose 4.6 percent last year in the Baltimore area, the largest annual rise since 1987, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although higher than the year before, the average weekly wage of $538 was the equivalent of $385 a week in 1982-1984 dollars. Workers were left with almost 1.5 percent less purchasing power than they had almost a decade ago.

Still, last year's increase left the area's manufacturing wages 15 percent above the national average, compared with 12 percent higher in 1982.

"The reason why Baltimore has a higher wage is their companies are a little more of the older, traditional manufacturing jobs, and you've got [relatively higher-paying] defense jobs," said Cliff Milli

gan, an economist who follows Maryland for DRI/McGraw Hill Inc.

"That's one of the disadvantages that Baltimore and Maryland as a whole have: They make more money than in other places," he said, but "it makes Baltimore a little less competitive than the lower-wage areas of the country."

The apparent irony of higher earnings during a recession stemmed from at least two factors, according to bureau officials: Employers tended to lay off less-experienced, lower-earning employees first, relying on the remaining employees for more work; and inflation stayed low.

"You feel like you're in a recession mainly due to the number of jobs available," said Alan Paisner, a regional commissioner of the bureau. "Where employment declines, very often the lower-level jobs disappear."

In fact, manufacturing employment statewide fell to 182,800 in December, a 3.5 percent decline from a year earlier.

Nationwide, manufacturing jobs fell 1.5 percent, according to the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

"We didn't have more people working," Mr. Paisner said. "But the people with jobs, at least in manufacturing, did a little better."

They worked a little longer, too, according to the bureau.

The manufacturing workweek remained at 41 hours or more during the entire recession, the figures show. During the recession of the early 1980s, the workweek fell below 40 hours.

Baltimore-area residents faced less inflation than did the rest of the country. From November 1991 to November 1992 Baltimore-area consumer prices rose 2.4 percent, compared with percent for the nation.

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