Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Last October, Andy Kiersz of The Business Insider crunched some numbers and showed which profession in each state earned the most outsized annual salary compared to the national average for that profession.

For example, your annual salary if you are a welder in Alaska is 80 percent higher than the national average for welders. This doesn't mean that welders in the other 49 states all earn that much less than Alaskan welders. Some of them may earn almost as much. But when you do the math of averaging -- adding up all 50 and then dividing by 50, you get the lower figure, and the Alaska figure is 80 percent higher than that.

Some of the greatly higher figures make sense. People in the category "lifeguards, ski patrol and other recreational protective service workers" who work in Hawaii are probably a little more in demand than people in that same category in Nebraska, for example. So they can command higher salaries. The demand for logging operators in Idaho probably exceeds the demand for the same specialty in, say, Arizona, and so the salaries for such in Idaho are 39% higher than the national average.

Some of the figures explain a lot of things. Judges and magistrates in California make 62% above the national average for their profession, offering a pretty good hint as to why California is so screwed up. Tax examiners and collectors do better in Michigan and we now have some hints as to what's helped Detroit collapse. Some are predictive -- Colorado legislators earn 50% more than the national average for legislators, so Colorado is likely to be screwed up pretty soon.

Actually, as noted in this space before, comparing state legislative salaries across the country involves some apples and oranges that make the average a less informative figure than it might be. Some states pay their legislators a per diem and others only compensate for expenses with no base salary at all. And for the benefit of the campaign-by-meme crowd repeating that statistic, the profession in Oklahoma which pays the most above its national average is not legislator, but optometrist.

Rhode Island is the state where teachers do better vs. the national average than any other profession in the state, bringing home 77% more than that national average. For 2015, Rhode Island's students scored 25 points below the national average on the SAT. There's no way to know what if any correlation exists between those two facts, but it could at least hint that other factors than educator salaries affect student performance. And some of those factors might not be at all amenable to correction by legislation.

Some of the figures are head-scratchers. Why do gaming dealers in Kansas make close to 30% more than gaming dealers across the country? And why do "athletes and sports competitors" in Pennsylvania make 66% more than their profession's national average, given the performances of most Pennsylvania sports teams? Why do printing press operators in the District of Columbia make more than double their profession's national average -- perhaps printing all of those government regulations takes such a toll on a normal person's sense of logic and proportion that only extremely high pay can lure them in? And why do "insulation workers" rank as the most above-average salary for Illinois, when Chicago voters earn more per ballot than anyone else in the country?

Some questions, it seems, await more exploration.

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