For a long time, Richland has boasted more people with doctoral degress per capita than anywhere else in the country. So it's not surprising the Mid-Columbia's average wage is much higher compared with other regions across the nation.
Typical wages here range from almost $62 per hour to a few pennies below our minimum wage of $8.55 per hour, depending on the job description.
That's a big gap.
Statistics point to us becoming a community of the "haves" and the "have nots." That sounds pretty discouraging, but it's not the whole story.
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Engineering managers top the hourly wage scale. The guy cooking your hamburger or picking your apples makes considerably less.
So what's to be learned?
Well, for one thing, stay in school. There are great jobs to be had right in our backyard, but they typically require college degrees or specialized training.
Of course, there is no shame in lower-paying jobs -- especially for the burger lovers among us. But it is hard to provide for a family, or even survive as a single person, on $9 an hour. (We have to add here that Washington's minimum wage is $1.30 higher than the federal mandate.)
Another lesson might be that you don't have to have one of those "top jobs" to benefit from living in a community with a lot of high-paying positions.
The civic causes that big paychecks help support -- from the performing arts to preservation of open spaces -- enrich the entire community.
Much to our mothers' dismay, we aren't all going to be engineers. (Some of us may even be journalists -- sorry, Mom.)
But look at it this way. We have a lot of engineers (and other well-paid professionals) who still have jobs -- and they continue to buy burgers and eat apples.
The fry cooks and farm workers keep buying things from retailers, the retailers can keep buying ads in the newspaper, and the engineers can keep getting a newspaper on their porch every morning.
It's the economic circle of life.
That being said, we are the first to acknowledge that times have been tougher lately, and our community is not immune. Even in the Tri-Cities, many businesses have had to scale back.
This is a great place to work, live and play. Those are some of the things that attract businesses to our area.
A highly educated and skilled work force is another draw for companies considering the Tri-Cities. The wages some of our workers can command also make some businesses cast a skeptical glance in our direction. After all, everyone is looking for a deal these days.
For businesses considering a move here, look beyond the average wages and recognize our low cost of living and the quality of life in this highly desirable community.
As we close in on completing cleanup at Hanford, some of those high paying jobs will go away. We need to continue to diversify our economy. Having a diversified work force is good for everyone -- even if it does create a payscale disparity.