Many San Diego high-tech workers were already making healthy salaries before the Great Recession — and now their sector is benefiting from some of the region’s largest salary hikes in the years since.

Meanwhile, workers in some low-wage industries have seen their pay hikes swallowed up by a rising cost of living.

The average San Diego County worker fell somewhere in the middle.

The latest government census of employers reveals the average San Diego County worker saw a roughly 22 percent increase in weekly wages from early 2009 to early 2014. That figure drops to just 10 percent when you factor in inflation.

Here’s what that looks like.

San Diego County’s average weekly wage was $918 in the first quarter of 2009 and rose almost $200 over the last five years, though inflation seriously cut into those earnings.

But not all San Diego industries are on the same page. Weekly salaries for workers in fast-growing technology sectors, particularly biotech, have boomed while those in industries like arts and entertainment, have essentially seen pay cuts. Employers in many other industries have handed out raises that barely keep pace with inflation or only slightly surpass it.

The latest joint state-Department of Labor Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages drives home the reality of the region’s growing hourglass economy, with the most significant job growth coming in industries that pay a lot or a little.

A similar pattern is playing out when it comes to wages: They’re getting higher at the top, and stagnating at the bottom.

I pulled the numbers for some of the region’s largest industries to see how wages have shifted.

First, let’s look at those with the most significant growth areas.

Most of the industries that saw big wage growth require technical skills and college degrees, in many cases even a Ph.D. (Hotel jobs were a surprising outlier.)

Biotech jobs, in particular, are paying a lot more than they did in 2009, even when you consider inflation.

The county’s added 1,465 pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing jobs since the beginning of 2009 and wages have since more than doubled for those workers.

Workers focused on scientific research and development, a category that includes many biotech employees, have seen a 50 percent spike in wages over five years.

Now let’s look at industries that are seeing negative wage growth.

Arts, entertainment and recreation jobs, which include covers everything from sports venues and theme park gigs to casino poker dealers, are paying 5 percent less today than they were in early 2009.

Meanwhile, retailers, bars and restaurants – which collectively comprise about 23 percent of local private-sector jobs – reported worker salaries that were 1 percent to 3 percent lower than five years ago.

All these numbers incorporate cost-of-living increases.

This basically means people who already took home healthy salaries pre-Recession are now making even more, and people who didn’t make much in 2009 are taking home less.

The simple economic principle of supply and demand is at play here.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership reported Thursday that San Diego’s biotech industry grew more than 45 percent from 2005 to 2013.

The job training group recently surveyed more than 130 biotech firms and heard many are having difficulty finding qualified candidates. This isn’t a new trend, said Jordan Levine, director of economic research at the Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics. Many biotech research jobs require a Ph.D. and specialized skills, and there aren’t many folks with the necessary training to apply.

“There isn’t this massive pool of individuals who are trying to find work in that sector,” Levine said.

That’s not the case for restaurant and retail jobs, where far more people are qualified even as the industries grow. Indeed, the region has added more than 550 food and drink businesses since 2009 – though they’re not necessarily motivated to pay their workers more.

This is part of our quest digging into the difficulties – real or perceived – of doing business in San Diego. Check out the previous story in our series, What We Mean When We Talk About San Diego’s Innovation Economy, and the next, San Diego to Incoming Businesses: Group Hug!

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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