Thanks to well-paid millionaires, San Mateo County wages are on fire 

click to enlarge Mark Zuckerberg's company Facebook, based in Menlo Park, has made millionaires of many tech workers, but most of the giant wage gains in San Mateo County were in other business sectors. - DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES
  • Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Mark Zuckerberg's company Facebook, based in Menlo Park, has made millionaires of many tech workers, but most of the giant wage gains in San Mateo County were in other business sectors.

Wages in San Mateo County grew faster than in anywhere else in the nation in the fourth quarter of 2012, but it's not clear who is getting rich.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unprecedented 107.3 percent increase in the average weekly wage in 2012's fourth quarter. That amounts to an astounding increase of $1,677 a week, or $87,204 a year, according to BLS documents.

The wage gain was the largest of its kind in the nation's recent history, said David Hiles, a supervisory economist with the bureau.

But the wage increase wasn't exactly distributed evenly among those who labor within the county.

"The majority of people who work in the community, who make the community function on a daily basis, aren't getting that wage gain," Shelley Kessler of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council said. "Those folks will never see that kind of wealth in a lifetime."

The county wage statistics are misleading because they're heavily skewed by a few people in managerial positions earning enormous salaries, Kessler said.

"Of the top 100 highest-paid CEOs in America, there are 45 who work for businesses based in San Mateo [County]," she said. "In total, those 45 annual compensation packages, including their wages, amount to $246,984,129."

Determining the cause of the wage gain, and who received the increase, remains elusive. Hiles of the Bureau of Labor Statistics declined to discuss specific companies or causes of the surge, citing legal and privacy concerns.

The federal government statistics take into account more than just cash paid out to employees. Also included in the report are other forms of compensation such as 401(k) contributions, bonuses and stock options. As a result, early media reports suggested that the unprecedented increase in average wages could be the result of Facebook employees exercising stock options and vested units left over from the company's 2012 initial public offering.

But federal officials note that the county's wage gains were concentrated in the professional and business services — a category that doesn't include Facebook.

Kessler said although the wage gains are taking place in professional and business services, the majority of new jobs in the county are lower-paid positions in service industries. In such service jobs, wage increases are obviously nowhere near the statistics cited in the BLS report, Kessler said.

What's clear is that one of the largest employers, the county government, is not the source of the dramatic wage increases. Most civil servants haven't had a salary increase in two years, said Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley. Nurses were the only group to receive a wage hike, and that was a small hike, Horsley said.

According to the latest census information, about 7,000 low- and middle-income earners fled the county between 2006-11. During the same time period, about 10,000 households earning $200,000 or more appeared.

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