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Total Compensation Paid Out In Fairfield, Hartford, New Haven Counties Fell In 2009

Nationwide, employers paid less in 88 percent of urban counties than in 2008

By MARA LEE

December 23, 2010

If you had a job in 2009, it's likely the growth in your salary and benefits outpaced inflation.

But because so many jobs disappeared last year, employers paid lower total compensation than they did the year before in 88 percent of the nation's most urban counties.

Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven counties are in that group all in negative territory.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Fairfield County's employers' total compensation paid in 2009 was $40.2 billion, down 6.7 percent from 2008. That was the largest drop of any metropolitan county in New England, and only Manhattan, two counties in the Detroit area and St. Louis fell further.

Fairfield County was different from most urban counties in that even those who kept their jobs had declining wages. The average compensation per job including benefits was $92,435, down 2.1 percent from the year before.

Even with the recession, Fairfield County's employers paid enough to put the county at 29th in the nation. And the average compensation per job was fifth in the country, behind Manhattan, the Silicon Valley's Santa Clara County, Washington, D.C., and its neighbor across the river, Arlington, Va.

In Hartford County, No. 38 in total compensation, the total wages and benefits paid fell 2.3 percent from 2008 to 2009. That was a significantly smaller drop than the national average of 3.2 percent.

The largest drops were in the fields where the most jobs evaporated construction and manufacturing.

The average compensation per job in Hartford County including benefits rose from $69,618 to $70,580, a 1.4 percent improvement. Since inflation in 2009 was a barely noticeable 0.2 percent, that wasn't so bad.

But that's not how most people felt last year. Ron Van Winkle, West Hartford's town manager and an economist, said that's partly because companies are paying more for benefits, and that's invisible when you look at your paycheck. Companies regularly pay 10 percent more a year to cover their share of employees' health insurance, he said.

The mood during a recession also plays a role, Van Winkle said. "At the dark times of recession, there is often a big difference between what people feel and what is real. There is no question the economy is recovering."

In New Haven County, ranked No. 74, total wages and benefits also fell 2.3 percent.

The average compensation per job including benefits rose to $60,636 from $59,503, up 1.9 percent.

Van Winkle said he compares a recession to an auto accident. Imagine you're thrown from the car, and are lying on the ground, injured. The paramedic comes up to you and says, "You're going to be all right." That's where we were when the recession ended in the middle of 2009. But that moment is a long way from getting back to your Frisbee playing days.

"People always feel at the bottom it's never going to come back up," he said.

And he said it will be a long time before we get back to normal unemployment levels of 6 percent.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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