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Jobs aren’t the only thing growing in Huntsville. Here’s how much income has risen in 20 years.

This story first appeared in the Lede, a digital news publication delivered to our subscribers every morning. Go here to subscribe.

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Huntsville-area households are making $20,000 more than they were two decades ago, and inflation and competition in the job market could drive it up even further.

The median income in 2020 for households in the Huntsville metro was $66,450, and adjusted for inflation at $65,244. In 2001, it was $44,285 and $53,870 ($54,802 adjusted for inflation) in 2010, according to U.S. Census American Community Survey.

“Absolutely inflation affects your wages,” said Jeff Thompson, a research scientist with the UAH Center for Management and Economic Research. “It’s a lag. Employers just can’t raise compensation arbitrarily. They will have to increase wages to help workers to continue to be able for afford to buy gas to come to work, for example.”

“What’s happening in the last year, when it comes to salaries, we need for all of us to raise salaries because of the inflationary piece of the economy, and secondly, to be competitive,” added Madison Mayor Paul Finley.

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The inflation rate in the U.S. was 8.6% in May, the highest since December 1981. And there are between 16,000-25,000 jobs available in the metropolitan area.

“Because of the job opportunities here, growth in a number of industries from the defense industry to manufacturing industry, to the service industry, we’re going to see the Huntsville-Madison County area (median household income) continue to grow given the challenges of recruiting workforce across the nation,” Thompson said.

Mazda Toyota, which opened in 2018, employs a little more than 2,000, but is seeking to reach 4,000. Blue Origin is seeking to double its workforce since opening in 2020.

Thompson said the median household income has risen between 1-2% over much of the last two decades.

“You’re now seeing a 3-4% rise,” he said. “If you look at inflation, it’s in the double digits. Our workforce can’t afford to indefinitely to earn less and less in real terms.”

Thompson, Finley and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, who chairs the Huntsville Area Metropolitan Organization attribute the increase over the last couple of decades to job growth in the area.

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“The growth in the employment and jobs in north Alabama and Madison County and particularly in Huntsville over the last two decades has been pretty phenomenal,” Thompson said. “Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen some significant developments at Redstone Arsenal, the automotive industry, aerospace industry and the types of companies that support the population. That’s been growing pretty significantly.”

“The economy in north Alabama is vibrant,” Strong added. “I think’s even going to go further. I think the diversification of our economy is what has led to this success. I think it’s a number of the things, whether its white collar, blue collar. You have a very solid income base to provide for a family, buy a quality home. That sets you up with a good economy.”

Local government officials such as Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle point to the rise of advanced manufacturing jobs such as the ones produced by Mazda Toyota, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Remington, Blue Origin and Polaris having as much of an impact as the high-paying aerospace and defense industries. And all but Toyota Motor Manufacturing opened after 2014. Toyota Motor Manufacturing opened in 2001. According to the Milken Institute, wages grew in the Huntsville area by 8.4% from 2015 to 2020.

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“A person in the household who gets a better job certainly increases that household’s income,” Thompson said. “If you have a second spouse who gets a job at Mazda Toyota, for example, you pump up that household income even more.”

A Mazda Toyota production team member can make $19-25.65 an hour. A multi-skilled maintenance worker at the Mazda Toyota manufacturing plant can make between $26.29-$36.65 an hour and will receive a $3,000 signing bonus if hired before June 27.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the average take home pay per week in the Huntsville metro is $1,302, or $36.91 an hour as of March. Pay in the Huntsville area is up more than $2 an hour over a year ago.

“It’s not so much the company, it’s having employment opportunities that increases the median household income the most,” Thompson said.

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