Thursday, December 05, 2019

Rural and Republican areas have seen the most dramatic income gains and losses in the past few years

Per capita income changes in U.S. counties from 2016 to 2018, based on Bureau of Economic Analysis data
(Stateline map; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version)
"In recent years, an oil boom has pumped up the incomes of many rural residents in Texas, even as flooding and the trade war have dragged down incomes in Nebraska farm country. Both cases are emblematic of a broader trend: The counties with the most dramatic income gains and losses since 2016 are mostly rural and Republican," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline, a news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts. "A Stateline analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that while residents of booming big cities were most likely to have growing incomes in the three years between 2016 and 2018, rural residents had a very mixed outcome."

The analysis highlights some of the underpinnings of the rural-urban divide that drove the 2016 presidential election, Henderson writes. Though Democrat Hillary Clinton won fewer than 500 of the nation's 3,000-plus counties, those she took accounted for almost two-thirds of the nation's gross domestic product. But the local economies in many Trump-voting counties were struggling or highly dependent on energy, agriculture and Rust Belt manufacturing.

"Nationally, the average personal income rose to about $54,000 last year, up 4% after inflation; and the typical county saw a 3% rise, whether it was Democratic or Republican, big city or rural," Henderson reports. The difference shows a rural-urban disparity, since most counties are rural. "In the list of the 200 biggest winners and losers, big Democratic cities tended to be among the success stories while rural Republican areas — which comprised nearly 90% of both lists — were split evenly between winners and losers," Henderson writes.

The Permian Basin oil boom in Texas and New Mexico triggered the biggest gains in rural and Republican areas. Rural Republican areas in Nevada, meanwhile, had the top 10 biggest income losses in the nation. "That came from a perfect storm of floods, the trade wars, a weak ethanol market and a strong dollar that made it even harder to export farm products. Many of those trends also affected Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota," Henderson reports.

In rural Nebraska, where the economy is mostly agricultural, voters who fared poorly are unlikely to blame Trump or the Republican policy, said Deb Cottier, director of the Northwest Nebraska Development Corp. "We are much more self-reliant than either coast or the urban areas," Cottier told Henderson. "It takes a lot to raise the anger and ire of hardworking, rural, agricultural people. If they believe they are being treated fairly, they are not going to jump ship."

Direct government payments, mostly for the trade war, are estimated to total $22.4 billion in 2018, about a quarter of all farm income and 40% of all farm profits, according to the Department of Agriculture's latest projections.

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