SEE ALSO: Many Yorkers cutting costs to stay afloat

If you think your expenses have increased a lot more than your paycheck during the last decade, you're not wrong.

And experts say that imbalance might continue for several more years.

Federal statistics show the average hourly wage in York County has increased from $15.33 to $20.65 during the last 10 years, creeping up by 50 cents or less a year.

Simultaneously, the cost of living typically increased by 2 percent to 4 percent each year between 2002 and 2012. That compares to wage increases of 1 percent or less because many Yorkers were underemployed or working less than 34 hours a week in that time period, according to statistics.

In many categories, the Consumer Price Index has shown increases in each of the 10 years for things people need the most.

Some examples:

---Food costs increased 5.9 percent in 2008, during the Great Recession when many local residents were reeling from job losses, underemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosure. During other years between 2002 and 2012, the food index increases varied from 1.5 percent to 4.9 percent.

---Housing costs, which include rent, insurance, utilities and more, jumped the most in 2005, climbing 4 percent. In other years over the 10-year span, prices ticked up .03 to 3.3 percent.

---Transportation and energy costs posted the

highest increases, with the former jumping 8.3 percent one year and the latter jumping 18.2 percent in 2009. Those costs have also dipped at times, fluctuating along with gas prices.

---Apparel costs might have been the only reprieve for consumers during the last 10 years, as that category decreased most of the time. However, in 2011, the cost of clothes went up 4.6 percent.

---Medical expenses have not offered any breaks to patients. Costs have gone up each year, varying from 2.6 percent to 5 percent increases.

Why so stagnant? York County's average hourly wage is $20.65, 10 percent less than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What's more, hourly wages in several occupation groups are significantly lower than national averages, the bureau determined.

The only local category that performed better than the national average was production. It pays an hourly wage of $17.25, which is 5 percent higher than the $16.45 national average.

It's a category that probably gets a boost from the county's large manufacturing sector, said Bob Jensenius, executive vice president of the York County Chamber of Commerce.

"Traditionally, manufacturing jobs pay a higher hourly wage," he said.

But employees of local manufacturers have also watched their wages stagnate in recent years.

In some cases, employers can't afford to give raises, Jensenius said.

"Employer revenue has not kept up with inflation either," he said.

During the Great Recession, many employers withheld wage increases so they could avoid layoffs, he said.

"The business isn't there, so raises can't be there either," Jensenius said.

The unemployment factor: There likely won't be any upward pressure on wages until the county returns to full employment, analysts agreed.

A 5 percent unemployment rate signifies full employment, according to William Sholly, an analyst with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

The unemployment rate for the York-Hanover area was 7.6 percent in December -- the most recent statistic available from the state department.

Employment rates have a lot of impact on wages, said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a Harrisburg firm that analyzes Pennsylvania's economy and public policy.

For example, when the unemployment rate was below 5 percent during the second half of the 1990s, all workers benefited. Low-wage workers saw their earnings increase 14 percent -- more than $1 an hour -- and the earnings of middle-wage workers increased 10 percent. High-wage workers saw the biggest earnings increase at 20 percent, according to Herzenberg's research.

Though middle- and low-wage earners have watched their paychecks stagnate or shrink, top earners have continued to collect wage increases, he said.

Because of this, Pennsylvania is among states with fast-growing income inequality, Herzenberg said.

"Whether you're a corporate executive or a laborer, hard work should pay off," he said.

A matter of leverage: But most workers are too grateful to be working to fight for higher wages, Herzenberg said.

"We've had high unemployment for five years. Workers are happy just to hold onto their jobs at their current wages," he said.

In the late '90s, when the unemployment rate was low and good workers were hard to find, employees had more leverage to ask for raises, Herzenberg said.

With the unemployment rate hovering between 7 percent and 8 percent, it could be a while before workers have that kind of leverage again, he said.

Another wage issue: "The situation in York County is pretty representative of the situation throughout Pennsylvania and across the country. It's going to be a growing trend until states start addressing minimum wage," said Jack Temple, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a New York-based think tank.

And it doesn't look as though the federal minimum wage will increase anytime soon, he said.

In July, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-California, introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012. The legislation would raise the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $9.80 in three 85-cent steps during the course of three years. After three years, the rate would be automatically indexed to inflation.

But because of opposition from House Republicans, the bill died last summer and was referred to committee.

"It's unfortunate because, since the 1960s, minimum wage hasn't kept up with the cost of living," Temple said.

York County needs both minimum wage jobs and skilled jobs, Jensenius said.

"Service jobs and manufacturing jobs are not mutually exclusive. We need both to grow a strong economy," he said.

Because there are no signs of immediate wage increases, it's good that inflation is low at the moment, experts said.

Last year, the inflation rate was 1.7 percent, according to Darren Rippy, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The Federal Reserve targeted a 2 percent inflation rate, so this tells me the Federal Reserve is doing a pretty good job controlling inflation right now," he said.

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How we measure up

---Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media jobs in York County pay $17.15 an hour, which is 34 percent less than the $25.89 national average.

---Legal jobs pay $36.17 an hour, which is 24 percent less than the $47.30 national average.

---Architecture and engineering jobs pay $31.57 an hour, which is 15 percent less than the $37.08 national average.

---Computer and mathematical jobs pay $33.17 an hour, which is 12 percent less than the $37.85 national average.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.