A nice place to work, but would you want to live there?

Northeast Texas wages lag behind Dallas area, but housing prices show an even bigger gap

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Dec 30, 2007 - Workers in Northeast Texas have seen their wages increase by almost 15 percent in the last six years, according to Texas Workforce Commission’s Wage Information Network.

And while the pay for similar jobs is a good bit higher in the Metroplex and other urban areas, housing prices in the respective markets underscore how significantly other factors level the economic playing field.

The average salary for a worker in the Northeast Texas area — which includes Hopkins, Delta, Lamar, Red River, Bowie, Franklin, Titus, Morris and Cass counties — was $29,591 ($14.23 an hour) in 2006. In 2001, the average annual wage was $25,778, or $12.39 an hour, 14.8 percent lower.

The bad news is that Northeast Texas was low on the list, ranking 23rd out of 29 areas in Texas. on the other hand, the average wage is only about $200 a month less than number 10 on the list, which was the oil-happy Permian Basin, which includes Midland and Odessa.

Dallas is the highest-paid region of the state, with average annual wages of $42,174, or $20.28 an hour, in 2006, followed by the Capitol Area (Austin) at $40,845, or $19.64 an hour, and the Gulf Coast Area encompassing Houston and Galveston, which averaged $39,472 a year, or $18.98 an hour.

Tarrant County (Fort Worth) and the Brazo Valley , which includes Bryan-College Station, rounded out the top five in Texas with $38,138 ($18.34/hour) and $35,927 ($17.27/hour), respectively.

The lowest average wages were found in Cameron County on the southermost tip of the state, where average salaries were $26,151 a year, or $12.57 an hour. The was followed by the Middle Rio Grande ($26,964, or $12.96/hour), Lower Rio Grande ($27,006, or $12.98/hour) and Deep East Texas ($28,091, or $13.51/hour).

Statewide, the average annual wages were $36,373, or $14.23 per hour.

Northeast Texas' entry-level wages have risen almost $2 per hour since 2001, according to the data, which put the starting salary for unskilled labor at $6.10 that year. In 2006, the number had risen to $7 per hour.

Of course, when it comes to salaries, experience counts, and that's reflected in a category called "Experienced Wage." That figure for Northeast Texas also rose about 15 percent over a six-year period. The data estimated experienced workers in Northeast Texas earned an average annual wage of $32,322 ($15.54/hour) in 2001 compared to $37,104 ($17.84/hour) last year.

While Northeast Texas trails the big cities in wages, that doesn't mean it's less affordable to live where salaries are lower, especially when housing costs are taken into account.

The average price for a home sold in the Dallas area this year has hovered around $218,700, according to statistics kept by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University-College Station. Conversely, in Paris, the closest city to Hopkins County for which data was available, the average home price was less than half that — $98,745.

The 2005 data for Hopkins County from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center also noted that in the 75482 Zip code, which includes Sulphur Springs, more homes sold quicker and for higher prices than the 75460 Zip code of Paris.

Houses apparently sell quicker in Sulphur Springs than Dallas, on average, as well. While it's not unusual for a house in the Dallas market to stay on the market for six months — the current average — homes in the 75482 Zip code were usually on the market between 76 and 94 days, according to the Real Estate Center statistics.

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