Sluggish Recovery is Evident in New Census Numbers

A new census report on the growth—and lack of growth—in the median income of U.S. counties between 2007 and 2013 offers further evidence of the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession.

The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week, only go through 2013, so they do not reflect recent good news on hiring or the dramatic dip in oil prices. Nevertheless, they illustrate the extent to which Americans in many areas of the country were still struggling even four years after the recession officially ended in June 2009.

The federal government uses SAIPE data to allocate federal aid that is tied to income, and is a combination of survey data from the American Community Survey and other administrative records. To minimize errors caused by small sample sizes, Stateline confined its analysis of the census data to larger counties with 50,000 or more residents.

The 10 large counties with the highest median income in 2007 remained on the list in 2013. But Douglas County, a suburb halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, and Arlington County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., were the only two counties in that group where income gains came close to outpacing inflation, which totaled 12.4 percent between 2007 and 2013. In Douglas County, median income increased 11.9 percent to $105,192 during that period and in Arlington County it grew 9.9 percent to $101,533. 

The large counties with the largest growth in median income were oil-boom neighbors on the border of Texas and New Mexico. In Midland County, Texas, median income jumped 38.8 percent to $71, 151, while in neighboring Lea County, New Mexico, income increased 30.7 percent to $53,556. 

Midland’s economy was ranked the fastest-growing in the nation earlier this year by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, thanks to its employment growth associated with the Permian Basin oil fields. 

New Mexico—with an economy heavily reliant on mining and tourism,two sectors hit hard by the recession—also had the county with the biggest dip in income. The median income in McKinley County, New Mexico, dropped 17 percent to $27,790. Other counties with large decreases in median income between 2007 and 2013 included Hawaii County, Hawaii, down 15 percent to $47,377, and Darlington County, South Carolina, down 13.2 percent to $34,209. 

New Mexico’s McKinley County also had the nation’s highest poverty rate, 40.3 percent, in 2013. Neighboring Apache County, Arizona, had the second highest rate, at 38.7 percent. Apache County has three major Indian reservations, and Navajo is the most common language spoken in both McKinley and Apache counties. 

McKinley County also had the largest increase in poverty, almost 14 percentage points, followed by Clayton County, Georgia, where poverty grew from 13 percent to 25.4 percent between 2007 and 2013. Clayton County, home of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport, has recently attracted fresh produce and electronic repair firms that could improve its outlook. 

In 2007 the counties with the highest poverty rates were both in Texas: Cameron and Hidalgo counties, on the U.S. border with Mexico. Each had poverty rates of about 34 percent in both 2007 and 2013.