If you've got that feeling that you're running faster but falling farther behind, you may just be right.
The median wage in Fresno County – the figure at which half of all workers earned more and half earned less – was estimated at $15.80 per hour or just under $33,000 a year in May 2017, according to the latest estimates released this year by the U.S. Department of Labor. The figures put Fresno County squarely among the bottom five metropolitan areas of the state in terms of wages, well behind the major metro markets in the Bay Area or Southern California.
In 2007, before the economic recession that ravaged Fresno County and much of the nation, half of the county's workforce earned wages of less than $14 an hour, or $29,000 a year.
Over the past decade, however, the estimates from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that wages in Fresno County failed to keep up with inflation. Under the national Consumer Price Index, the 2007 median wage of $13.91 per hour would have the same effective buying power of $16.37 last year.
That means the 2017 median wage was equivalent to shortchanging the average worker by almost 60 cents an hour compared to 2007, even as the minimum wage in California rose from $7.50 to $10.50 per hour during the same period.
Not surprisingly, there is a wide gap between occupations with the highest hourly or annual wages and those at the bottom of the salary ladder. Medical doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, dentists and business chief executives all ranged toward the top of the scale with median wages of more than $140,000 a year in each occupation.
But the 2,500 or so highly educated and highly skilled people in those fields were far outnumbered by more than 104,000 workers in lower-wage positions such as restaurant workers, personal care aides, farm workers, retail sales clerks and cashiers, and many other occupations in which the median pay was less than $12 per hour or $25,000 per year.
Depending on individual circumstances, that can land a family perilously close to a threshold where they have trouble making ends meet to cover the costs of rent or a mortgage, transportation, utilities, groceries and other basic needs.
For a family of four people, the federal poverty line was calculated at $24,600 in 2017. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that nearly 23 percent of all families with three or four people were in poverty in Fresno County. And the rate was more than 46 percent for families headed by a single woman.
Of an estimated workforce of almost 373,000 in Fresno County, fully 60 percent were in occupations for which the median pay was $20 an hour or about $41,600 annually.
California's statewide median wage was estimated at $19.70 per hour, while the national median was $18.12 per hour. The highest wages in the state were in the San Jose and San Francisco areas, where the median hourly pay was estimated at more than $27 per hour.
Fresno's median wage of $15.80 ranked fourth from the bottom among 29 metropolitan markets in the state, above only Madera County at $15.24 per hour, Tulare County at $14.98 per hour and El Centro's $14.76 per hour. Kings County, or the Hanford-Corcoran market, had a median wage of $17.09 per hour.