Numbers Game Bureau of Statistics Plays Show, Tell with Paychecks

Article excerpt

All young police officers here should pack up and move to Chicago. Older St. Louis lawyers might be richer in New York.

That's one spin you could put on the latest Occupational Compensation Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Bureau on Thursday released data on average pay for 43 occupations, from accountants to truck drivers.

The numbers can be useful for bosses setting wages, workers arguing for raises, or people curious about what their neighbor may be earning.

The data show that pay can vary widely by geography. For instance, low-ranking cops in St. Louis average $630 a week. Chicago's rookie cops take in $810.

A senior lawyer in St. Louis makes $2,010 a week, according to the survey. His New York colleague gets $340 more for putting up with the sardine lifestyle and caviar prices of the Big Apple.

A St. Louis janitor, by contrast, would do well to move to Minneapolis. The average janitor's wage is $8.30 per hour up north, compared with $6.84 in St. Louis.

Contrasts like that are nothing new. A 1993 bureau survey found that St. Louis paychecks in general are a little on the skimpy side.

For instance, professionals here earned 96 percent of the national average. Secretaries earned 97 percent of the average.

Janitors in St. Louis were particularly underpaid, earning 86 percent of the national average.

Pay is a little skimpy here because the cost of living is also a bit below average, says Russell Signorino of the St. Louis Economic Council.

"The national perspective on St. Louis is that it's a heavily-unionized, high-cost area," says Signorino. The labor figures show that is false, he says.

A comparison with last year's survey shows that some professions had a really nice year.

The average salary for a young lawyer jumped 7 percent to $34,000 per year, while senior lawyers jumped 6 percent to $105,000. They easily bested the inflation rate of 2.6 percent.

While things were sweet at the top, they were sour on the bottom. The average janitor's pay dropped 1 percent to $14,200.

The Bureau doesn't keep an overall tally of wage gains in St. Louis. But for the Midwest, wages were up 3.3 percent. Nationally, wages were up 3 percent and benefits rose 2.7 percent.

The St. Louis statistics come from a March survey of 367 businesses in the 10-county metro area. …