Originally published in The Wall Street Journal.
Among the 50 largest metros in the U.S., San Diego ranked the highest in the nation for median household income growth. This is largely due to its abundant supply of booming tech and biotech companies, like Amazon and Sony, willing to pay big bucks for top talent. Read more in The Wall Street Journal article below.
If the U.S. economy is on fire, California is its white hot center.
Of the 50 largest metros, five of the 10 with the biggest income gains are located in California, where a diverse economy has been adding jobs across industries including construction, tourism and technology. No other state had more than one region in the top ten.
According to census data, the San Diego area, fueled by high-paying job growth in telecoms and biotech, gained most among the 50. Median annual household income rose 5.4% in 2017 to $76,207. The Silicon Valley area, including San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, followed closely with a 4.6% rise in median income to $117,474.
With most of California’s major cities at or near full employment, there are more jobs than job seekers in some sectors and that has driven up wages, economists said. Very high incomes in some of the state’s dominant sectors, including technology, have also pulled up the median.
“We don’t have slack in many of our labor markets in California and so you get wage increases,” said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist at the University of California-Los Angeles.
California’s economy, which grew 3% in 2017, has in recent years outpaced growth in the overall nation. It now ranks as the fifth-largest economy in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom last year.
Still, a high cost of living driven by surging housing costs has raised concerns about the sustainability of the state’s growth and whether most residents are benefiting from it. California has the highest home prices of any state and nearly 30% of renters here pay more than half of their income toward rent, according to recent data from the state’s housing department. By some measures that account for cost of living, the state has the highest poverty rate in the country.
“As economic development professionals, we celebrate reports like this, but we also know if you dig further into the numbers…there is more work to be done,” said Erik Caldwell, Economic Development Director for the city of San Diego. He said his city’s historic industry clusters were having a new growth spurt, driving up incomes.
The tech boom is even helping to boost California regions beyond the coastal meccas where such businesses are based. Median income in the so-called Inland Empire, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario, rose 4.3%, the third-biggest gain in California and No. 6 among the 50 largest metro areas, to $61,994.
One of the top distribution hubs in North America, the Inland Empire has benefited tremendously from the growth in e-commerce. Amazon.com Inc. has some fulfillment centers there.
Christopher Thornberg, founder of Los Angeles-based research group Beacon Economics, said the Inland Empire economy was “on fire,” though he noted that residents who commute to nearby Los Angeles or elsewhere were likely pulling up the median household income.
Median income growth in the Los Angeles area ranked just below the Inland Empire, rising 4% last year to $69,992.