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Median wage rises 19 percent since 2002: How much is that?

Assuming a 40-hour work week, the median wage of $15.13 per hour in 2007 comes out to about $31,470 per year. The median wage of $12.74 per hour in 2002 comes out to about $26,500. The median wage in the region grew almost19 percent from 2002-07 ...

Assuming a 40-hour work week, the median wage of $15.13 per hour in 2007 comes out to about $31,470 per year.

The median wage of $12.74 per hour in 2002 comes out to about $26,500.

The median wage in the region grew almost19 percent from 2002-07 -- more than inflation and faster than every non-Twin Cities metro area in the state except Rochester.

Last year in December, the median wage in the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Statistical Area was $15.13 per hour, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The MSA includes St. Louis and Carlton counties in Minnesota and Douglas County, Wis.

In 2002, the median wage was $12.74 per hour. The median wage means50 percent of wages are above that figure and 50 percent are below.

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The specific characteristics of our region have made that increase happen, said Tony Barrett, professor of economics at the College of St. Scholastica. "I think it's the fact that our economy is dominated by health care, education and government," he said.

"Our job market has changed steadily but slowly over the last few years," said Drew Digby, Northeast Minnesota labor analyst for DEED. A survey last year by the department showed that employers are being forced to pay higher wages. "To retain people and recruit people, they have to pay them better," he said.

Also, the addition of more than 4,000 education and health-care jobs from 2002 to 2007 has helped raise the wages, and there are many job openings. That demand helps keep wages up, said Jim Skurla, acting director of the University of Minnesota Duluth Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

In the entire education, training and library occupations sector, wages in the MSA rose 19 percent, slightly more than inflation.

The median wage for health-care practitioners and technicians in 2002 was $19.46. It grew to $24.71 in 2007, according to DEED figures. That's growth of 25 percent, which is significantly more than inflation for that period.

Mining wages also have grown substantially, Digby said.

Government wage growth in St. Louis and Carlton counties have not beaten inflation, at 8 percent and 9 percent growth since 2007, but in both counties, government wages are higher than private-sector wages. In Carlton County, much of that comes from the success of Black Bear Casino and other economic development efforts, said Elaine Hansen, director of UMD's Center for Economic Development. Employees at tribal businesses are counted as government workers.

Wages in the Duluth-Superior MSA have stayed lower than the Twin Cities because employers haven't had to compete with each other as much as they do in a metropolitan area, Skurla said. Workers in the region generally aren't able to jump from their jobs to similar jobs for more pay, he pointed out.

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Unions also have kept pay higher in health care, education and government, Barrett said.

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