Sonoma County wages grew about 3 percent in the past year, with health care professionals making the strongest gains, according to new data from the state.
But some workers saw their paychecks shrink, a sign of lingering recession, economists say.
The annual survey of average pay for nearly 500 job titles found little wage growth for many occupations. With unemployment high and business recovery still slow, most employers are keeping a lid on wages, said Eduardo Martinez, senior economist at Moody's Analytics.
In some fields, there's little demand for workers, he said. "It's having the effect of lowering wages," Martinez said.
But demand from an aging Sonoma County population is driving wages upward for health care professionals. Those workers — including doctors, registered nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and medical technologists — saw their pay rise 11 percent in the past year, according to the survey.
"Demand for health care occupations in Sonoma County has picked up at a quicker pace than the rest of California and the U.S.," said Martinez, who tracks local economic trends.
Medical professionals are highly skilled and are compensated accordingly, said Judy Coffey, senior vice president at Kaiser Permanente in Sonoma and Marin counties.
"To attract and retain great doctors, nurses, other health care professionals and staff, not only do we offer competitive wages, but we also leverage technology to enable our physicians and staff to provide expert patient care and improve health," she said. "That takes a highly trained and skilled team."
Still, wages for health care support jobs, including nursing aides, medical assistants and pharmacy aides, were flat.
While overall pay growth was modest, it shows the local economy is starting to heal, said Ben Stone, director of Sonoma County's Economic Development Board. Local wages grew just 0.5 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the state.
"It's just one more sign of a recovery under way," Stone said.
Management, architecture, engineering, finance, computer, counseling and therapist jobs had pay gains over the past year, according to the state.
But wages fell about 11percent for another well-paid sector, legal occupations. The category includes attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and researchers.
There's a nationwide surplus of lawyers, and companies are trying to save money by outsourcing their legal work, Martinez said.
Education saw wages decline about 1.4 percent, as cash-strapped school districts furloughed teachers and librarians.
Pay for media, arts, design and entertainment jobs was down 3.5 percent from last year, according to the survey. The category includes musicians, artists, news reporters, graphic designers and photographers.
Personal service providers, including hairdressers, fitness trainers, child care workers and home care aides, saw their wages remain flat.
Wages also were flat for sales jobs in retail, insurance, real estate, advertising and telemarketing, according to the survey.
The state wage survey covers about 37,000 California employers each year and includes input from the U.S. Labor Department.
Employers are asked how many workers they employ in different occupations at various wage ranges. It doesn't cover household workers, the self-employed or company owners.