Metro wages graphic

It’s good to be young.

While that bit of conventional wisdom is often applied to people’s energy levels, a new report suggests it also could apply to young workers in the Eau Claire metropolitan area.

Eau Claire ranked as the third-highest-paying metro area in the country in 2017 for full-time workers under age 25 after factoring in the cost of living, according to the study by autoinsurance.org. The Eau Claire metro area is comprised of Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.

The report, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, indicated that median annual earnings for workers from ages 16 through 24 in the Eau Claire metro area that year totaled $32,000, which was adjusted to $35,516 after accounting for a cost of living 10 percent below average.

That trailed only No. 1 Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich., at $36,240 and No. 2 Michigan City-La Porte, Ind., at $35,842, which each had an even greater cost-of-living adjustment.

“This a pretty good place for young people in certain careers to get started,” said Thomas Kemp, chairman of the the economics department at UW-Eau Claire. “The cost of living is relatively low and wages in certain industries are relatively high.”

Despite recognizing those factors, Kemp acknowledged he was surprised by Eau Claire’s lofty ranking considering its reputation as a place with a good quality of life but where “you’re not going to get rich.”

That skepticism prompted Kemp to confirm the data and conclude that the city does indeed have a relatively high share of lucrative full-time employment options for young workers, especially in the medical, government and education sectors.

He theorized, however, that the ranking may have been elevated in 2017 by a hiring spree in those industries, possibly after an unusually large number of baby boomer retirements.

Still, Kemp said, “There are some good opportunities here.”

Aaron White, economic development manager for the city of Eau Claire, said he assumes the metro area’s high ranking was influenced in large part by the area’s low cost of living compared with comparable communities — something he noticed upon arriving from Kansas and has heard many people comment on when moving to the Chippewa Valley.

White agreed with Kemp about the important impact of the health and education sectors and also cited Jamf and other technology companies as likely playing a role and employing a lot of young workers.

In a tight labor market, the numbers could be a good marketing tool to attract more young workers to the community.

“It’s something I will look at and see how we can incorporate the data into the recruitment materials we put out there,” White said. “We are definitely looking to attract labor, and that’s something you want to try to capitalize on when you can.”

Nationwide, workers under 25 have median earnings of $25,700, according to the report.

“Although big cities have historically attracted droves of recent graduates, the high costs of living in places like New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco make it hard for young people to afford rent while also paying off student loans and enjoying city life,” autoinsurance.org said in a news release.

Median earnings of $30,000 for young workers in New York, for example, were adjusted to just $24,530 after factoring in the cost of living, giving the Big Apple a No. 191 ranking among 259 metro areas with populations of at least 100,000. San Francisco ranked 107th with a median of $27,344 after a 28 percent cost-of-living adjustment. Washington ranked 144th with an adjusted median of $25,845.

The La Crosse metro area ranked second in Wisconsin and 32nd nationally with adjusted median earnings of $30,468 for young workers.

Omaha, Neb.-Council Bluffs, Iowa, at $32,432, ranked first among large metro areas with populations exceeding 1 million and 15th overall.

The analysis shows that Eau Claire and other smaller markets with lower cost of living can offer more cost-efficient locations to embark on a career.