Mercer Shows Pay Discrepancies in Geographic Areas

October 30, 2003 ( - Top to bottom, the average market salary levels for the same position can vary by more than 60% across the country.

As an example, Mercer Human Resources points to an executive secretary, a position that has a national average base salary of $44,100 in 2003. However, at a base salary of $39,800, an executive secretary would be competitively paid in Indianapolis, and at the same time considerably underpaid in San Francisco, where the average base salary for the same position is $52,600 annually, a full 32% more, according to the Metropolitan Benchmark module of the 2003 Mercer Benchmark Database (See Mercer Pulls Together Survey Data for Compensation Database ).

Surprising no one is that the highest salary was found in New York City at $58,800, followed by other traditionally high cost-of-living cities San Francisco ($52,600), Washington, D.C. ($50,600) and Boston ($50,100). On the other end was the $36,500 earned in Pittsburgh. The Steel City was joined at the lower end by Albuquerque ($37,300), Baltimore ($37,400) and Memphis ($37,700).

Sticking closest to the US average of $44,100 was Charlotte’s $43,900. The North Carolina City was joined in the median by Seattle ($44,500), Philadelphia ($44,800) and Dallas ($45,100).

Accounting Changes

“As the economy begins to improve, organizations need to become more aware of pay levels in their local areas,” says Darrell Cira, a senior compensation consultant in Mercer’s Philadelphia office. “We expect to see a renewed competition for talent, but with less of the unbridled enthusiasm seen in the nineties regarding pay. Organizations will target which jobs to pay more; not all boats will rise.”

Factors such as the local labor market, demand for job skill, and composition of the talent pool play a role in determining which jobs are paid more within metropolitan areas, Mercer researchers said. As an example of the geographic variations, Mercer points to an intermediate accountant, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting and two to four years of experience.

At $43,400 nationally, average base pay for the job is comparable to that for the executive secretary ($44,100). However, in Seattle, an executive secretary is paid 4.5% more than an intermediate accountant ($44,500 versus $42,600, respectively), while in Tampa, Florida, an executive secretary earns 11% less than an intermediate accountant ($40,900 versus $45,400, respectively).

Some jobs studied are common to organizations in all industries, such as administrative, clerical, accounting, financial, human resources, communications, information technology, customer service, legal, and maintenance jobs. Others jobs are specific to the health care, banking, insurance, manufacturing, and engineering industries.

Nearly 1,400 mid-sized and large organizations, representing more than 40,000 locations and more than 778,000 employees, participated in the survey. The survey data are compiled for nearly 150 different metropolitan areas.The Metropolitan Benchmark module, or any other module of the 2003 Mercer Benchmark Database, can be purchased from Mercer online at or by calling (800) 333-3070.