Wages in most Washington area counties rose faster than the national average in 2004, according to the latest government data, suggesting that a strong local economy is causing employers to write bigger checks to their workers.

Nationally, the average weekly wage was 5.7 percent higher in the final three months of 2004 than it was in the same period of 2003. Several local counties had stronger wage gains in percentage terms. The average wage was 8.3 percent higher in Howard County, 7.7 percent higher in Arlington County, 6.7 percent higher in Fairfax County, and 6.3 percent higher in Montgomery County. Howard's wage growth was the 24th best among large counties.

A handful of local jurisdictions were at or below the national rate of wage growth. The District and Frederick County both came in at 5.5 percent. Loudoun County had wage growth of 5.1 percent, and Prince George's County had growth of 4.6 percent.

The District continued to have the highest average wage in the region, at $1,305 per week, or $67,860 per year, reflecting the many high-paying legal and other service jobs in the city. Nationally, the average wage was $812 a week, or $42,224.

While wage growth in Washington area counties was impressive, it was even stronger in Henrico County, Va., near Richmond, where wages rose 12.5 percent to $864 per week, the fourth-strongest growth rate among large U.S. counties.

-- Neil Irwin