New Census study documents stunning levels of income inequality in Texas

This week the US Bureau of the Census released a report titled. Income, Earnings, and Poverty Data From the 2007 American Community Survey.  The report presents data on income, earnings, and poverty by detailed socioeconomic characteristics for the United States, states, and lower levels of geography based on information collected in the 2006 and 2007 American Community Surveys (ACS).

While the data only reports on changes over a one year period, it clearly documents a stunning level of income inequality within Texas.  We have the poorest and the wealthiest counties in the country.  The extent of the deep poverty that pervades the Texas border counties (and surprisingly the Bryan-College Station area) is stunning.

Short Term Trends

One year is not a long enough period of time for great demographic changes.

From 2006 to 2007 Texas had a modest increase in the median income from 2006-2007 of $1,535 from $46,013 to $47,548.  This leaves Texas still trailing the national median income of $50,740.

Geographical Distribution of Income

What is more interesting is the comparison of geographical areas across the country.  The report divides counties and places into two groups — those with populations of 250,000 or more (larger areas) and those with populations from 65,000 to 249,999 (smaller areas).

For counties with 250,000 or more people, median household income estimates ranged from $107,207 for Loudoun County, VA, to $29,347 for Cameron County, TX.  The second poorest among these largest population counties was also in Texas, Hidalgo County ($30,295 median household income) as is the sixth poorest county (El Paso, TX – $34,980 median household income).

For middle sized counties with 65,000 to 249,999 people, median household incomes ranged from $100,327 for Hunterdon County, NJ, to $26,275 for St. Landry Parish, LA.  Potter County, where Amarillo is located, has the eight lowest median family income among smaller counties ($31,788 – median household income).  Flower Mound, TX has the sixth highest income among among places (cities) with a population between 65,000 and 249,999.

For places with 250,000 people or more, median household incomes ranged from $84,492 for Plano city, TX, to $28,097 for Detroit city, MI.

Income Inequality

The map at the top of this posting ranks states based on their levels of internal  income inequality based on the Gini index. The Gini index is a summary measure of income inequality. It indicates how much the income distribution differs from a proportionate distribution.  The Gini index varies from 0 to 1, where 0 indicates perfect equality (a proportional distribution of income), and 1 indicates perfect inequality (where one person has all the income and no one else has any).

Five states and the District of Columbia showed more income inequality (a higher Gini index) than the nation, while 33 states showed less income inequality (a lower Gini index). The Texas Gini index of 0.473 places it among the five states whose income inequality exceeds the nation as a whole.

Poverty Levels

Nationally, the percentage of people in poverty dropped from 13.3 percent to 13.0 percent.  The percentage of people in poverty in Texas likewise dropped from 16.9 percent to 16.3 percent, making Texas one of ten states that had a drop in the number of people in poverty.  Seventeen states and the District of Columbia had poverty rates higher than that of the nation.  Texas was one of these seventeen states.

Among the large counties with a population of 250,000 or more, Cameron County, TX, (34.7 percent), Hidalgo County, TX, (34.3 percent) and El Paso County, TX (28.7 percent) had the highest proportions of people with income below their poverty thresholds in the past 12 months. Once again,  Plano, TX has the lowest percentage of people in poverty (5.9 percent) among large places in the US.

Among mid-size US counties Brazos County, TX has the third (31.1 percent) and Webb County (Laredo) has the seventh (27.3 percent) highest rates of people in poverty.  Rockwall County, TX, on the other hand had the seventh lowest poverty rate in the US among these mid-sized counties.

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