Report: Wash. average wage increased

Washington’s average annual wage increased in 2010, due in part to the toll the recession took on lower-paid workers. The 2.1 percent increase pushed the average annual wage to $48,162. That’s an average weekly wage of $926. “An increase in the average wage can be misleading, because it’s not caused solely by raises,” said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause. The average wage can go up when employers eliminate a lot more low-paying jobs than higher-wage jobs. It also can rise if employers increase work hours for part-time employees rather than hire new workers. Last year, the number of workers in Washington covered by unemployment insurance fell by 31,756, while total earnings grew by $1.2 billion. The average annual wage is used to calculate unemployment benefits for jobless workers. The minimum weekly unemployment benefit, calculated at 15 percent of the average weekly wage, will increase by $3 to $138, for new claims opened on or after July 3. At the same time, the maximum weekly benefit, calculated at 63 percent of the average weekly wage, will increase by $13, to $583. Currently, about 20 percent of unemployment-insurance claims are paid the maximum benefit amount, and 10 percent receive the minimum. In addition to unemployment benefits, the average annual wage is used in computing employers’ unemployment taxes. Beginning in 2012, employers will pay unemployment taxes on the first $38,200 paid to each employee, up from $37,300 in 2011. The state average wage also is used by the Department of Labor & Industries in calculating worker’s compensation benefits.