Wages Spike In St. Louis. But Look Again. : Planet Money St. Louis City, Mo, has had a huge jump in average weekly wages -- but things may not be as prosperous as they appear.
NPR logo Wages Spike In St. Louis. But Look Again.

Wages Spike In St. Louis. But Look Again.

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The folks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics have released their County Employment and Wages Summary, and it looks like good news for people living in the city of St. Louis. According to BLS, from 2007 to 2008, average weekly wages in that city (which confusingly is also a county) rose from $962 to $1,508 -- a whopping 56.8 percent. That's a gigantic jump compared to the rest of the country. The next-highest wage increase, in Clayton, Ga., is only 9.9 percent, and the U.S. average rose only 2.2 percent.

But city officials call the number a recession-induced aberration. The bump came because several area companies, notably brewer Anheuser-Busch, downsized and offered thousands of laid-off workers a series of buyouts and severance packages.

The big shakeup in St. Louis was the purchase of Anheuser-Busch by Dutch Belgian brewer InBev a year ago, a city official says. InBev attempted to cut costs, and introduced a meritocratic system for remaining employees -- including bonuses.

BLS incorporates bonuses and severance pay into wage statistics, so the combination of both led to a huge -- and largely artificial -- bump. Now that the layoffs are done and the severance packages have likely run out, it will be interesting to see what the wage figures for this year will be.

Meanwhile, Elkhart, Ind. -- and its devastated RV industry -- is at the bottom of the pack, with an 17.8 percent decrease in average weekly wages.