Originally created 03/03/03

Pay in S.C. struggles to keep up with inflation



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Nearly a third of South Carolina workers are in occupations whose average salaries didn't keep pace with inflation between 1999-2001, according to a newspaper's analysis of federal data.

Roofers are typical of the trend that hit nearly a half-million workers statewide: The average South Carolina roofer earned $21,400 in 2001, down 4 percent after accounting for inflation, The (Columbia) State reported Sunday.

That pay is two-thirds of the national average, a gap that widened as the average roofer nationwide saw wages rise 2 percent after inflation.

"Materials keep going up, insurance keeps going up, but you've got people undercutting you," said Larry Dennis, whose Columbia home improvement business specializes in roofing.

The low wages are a sign of a sour economy and a further blow to a state where the average income trails the national average.

"I wish we could change it," said James P. Fields Jr., executive director of the Palmetto Institute, a think tank whose mission is to raise the state's per-person income.

Fields, of the Palmetto Institute, is particularly concerned about state losses in higher skilled jobs.

"In other states, what got hit the hardest were the knowledge-based jobs during the past few years," he said. "They took a hit, but those jobs will bounce back. Some of the jobs we've got in South Carolina, however, those jobs may not be coming back."

Manufacturing jobs, which have been a major part of the state's work force, have been on the decline for decades.

The State's analysis of 1999 and 2001 salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows pay rose for 55 percent of the nearly 600 occupations in the sample, compared with rising wages for 79 percent of the U.S. jobs.

The wage gap between South Carolina and the national average widened slightly.

In 2001, the average S.C. worker earned 88 percent of the U.S. average, compared with 89 percent in 1999.

As a result, more S.C. workers hold jobs whose average pay is below the national average.

The wage declines in South Carolina and the widening gap between South Carolina and national average pay for the same job didn't discriminate by pay range or skill.

Thanks to more home sales at higher prices, real estate agents saw boom times during the past few years.

In 2001, South Carolina real estate agents earned an average annual salary of $70,760, up 58 percent since 1999 after adjusting for inflation.

The pay was well above the U.S. average of $38,430.

"For the past five years, we've had an incredible real estate market in South Carolina," said Jim Peters, chief executive officer of the South Carolina Association of Realtors.

"While the rest of the economy has been in a tailspin, real estate has helped hold the economy up."