El Paso wages are growing slightly faster than the state and nation, according to new federal data released on Thursday.

The average weekly wage in El Paso rose by 4.2 percent in the third quarter of 2019 over the same period a year earlier. That compares to 4.1 percent in Texas and 3.6 percent nationwide, according to the County Employment and Wages Summary by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, wages in El Paso and other border communities continue to lag well behind the state and national averages. El Paso’s average weekly wage in the third quarter of 2019, $765, was 70 percent of the national average wage and 69 percent of the Texas average wage.

El Paso wages are being pushed up by a tight labor market as unemployment stays at 4 percent or less, an economist and an economic development official said.

“The third quarter county wage data are welcome news for El Paso. Most of that increase was probably due to a tight labor market in which employers were forced to bid up wages as the supplies of available workers became more limited,” said Tom Fullerton, an economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Jon Barela, the CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, the region’s main economic development agency, agreed that tight labor markets are pushing up wages. He said his agency focuses business recruiting efforts on companies paying the median county wage of $13.85 an hour or higher

One factor driving up El Paso wages in the third quarter of 2019 was large pay raises given to employees of the county’s three largest school districts. 

Teachers and staff at the El Paso, Socorro and Ysleta school districts received raises of 5 to 6.5 percent, which took effect in September, the final month of the third quarter. The three districts employ almost 20,000 people, about one of every 18 jobs in El Paso County.

El Paso is heavily reliant on government jobs, which account for 22 percent of all employment in the county, according to BLS data. Nationwide and across Texas, government employment is responsible for 14 to 15 percent of jobs.

The BLS report released Thursday looks at the 355 most populous counties in the country. El Paso ranked 93rd in wage growth in the third quarter of 2019, but still ranked 346th in average weekly wage.

The fastest wage growth in the country was in Boulder, Colorado, where wages increased 18.4 percent in the third quarter of 2019 compared to the same period a year earlier. The largest wage growth in Texas was in Williamson County outside of Houston, where the average weekly wage increased by 12.3 percent in that period.

Both Barela and Fullerton said wage growth should continue in El Paso, as labor markets remain tight and a the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade takes effect.

“Thanks to a strong national economy, the passage of the USMCA, and our aggressive business recruitment strategy, the region’s economy has reached new heights,” Barela said. “Unemployment is at record lows, wages are rising, and we’re seeing an increase in the number of companies looking at our area to relocate or expand.”

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.