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Our pay compares pretty well

If you're a factory worker, and you still have your job, the Buffalo Niagara region is a lucrative place to be.

On the other hand, if your line of work is in the management, business and financial fields, you probably could be making a whole lot more money somewhere else.

Those are a couple of the findings of new research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compared how much people working in nine major job groups earn, compared with the rest of the country and 77 other metropolitan areas.

One of the biggest surprises is that, all in all, pay in the Buffalo Niagara region is pretty much on par with the rest of the country, with workers here earning only 1 percent less than the national average.

"They basically aren't that different from the national average, but below the top-side numbers, there's quite a disparity," says Martin Kohli, the agency's regional economist in New York City.

"There's a perception that upstate New York and Western New York lag -- and I guess we do at some industry levels -- but not at the aggregate level," says Gary Keith, an economist at M&T Bank. "What's really driving that is the construction and production sectors."

For construction workers, pay day is quite a bit sweeter in the Buffalo Niagara region than it is in most of the country. Same thing for factory workers and even people with jobs in the much-maligned service field.

But the Buffalo Niagara region isn't such a happy place, come pay day, for professionals, people involved in sales and even office and administrative employees. Their pay lags the national average by a fairly significant margin.

Some of the results aren't terribly surprising. Pay for the region's production workers holds up well, running 8 percent above the national average, because of the heavy concentration of good-paying auto industry jobs, although that may have weakened in recent months. The study's findings were based on pay data from July 2008, before the auto industry went into a tailspin and the United Auto Workers agreed to sizable wage concessions as General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC both fell into bankruptcy.

Construction pay also is strong here, averaging 13 percent more than the national average and ranking 12th among the 77 metro areas included in the survey. That likely reflects the stronger union influence in the building trades here, Keith says.

The most surprising part of the pay study was that service jobs here are about 7 percent more lucrative than than they are nationally. That's important, because the service industry is one of the strongest segments of the local job market, and the report provides some evidence to debunk the commonly held belief that most service jobs come with rotten pay. To the contrary, Kohli says, noting that uniformed police services, for instance, tend to pay much more in New York than in other parts of the country.

On the other hand, the Buffalo Niagara region is not the place to be in you're in the management, business or financial fields. Those workers' pay lags behind the national average by about 11 percent, just 13 spots from the bottom of the rankings.

It's not much better for professionals, whose pay is 8 percent less than the national average, while workers in the sales field also struggle with pay that's 7 percent below the U.S. norm. In fact, workers in the sales field took a big pay hit in 2008, after earning 2 percent more than the national average in 2007. Keith and Kohli think changes in commissions could account for the big drop.

Keith thinks the region's relative pay probably has held up decently into 2009, despite the auto industry's struggles, because our job losses have been half as severe as the rest of the country over the last year.

"All in all, it's a sign of stability," Keith says.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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