Rural areas lead in income growth

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By Harold Morgan

Mostly we see the day-to-day. The long-term isn’t noticed. Once in a while, though, changes grab our attention. Our children, toddlers just yesterday, get married. The lovely olive colored dishwasher from the ’70s now is ridiculed.

Our economy is the same way. Unbeknownst to those of us buried in the day-to-day, from 2000 to 2008, some interesting and unreported things happened around New Mexico. The observation comes from annual per capita income figures for counties released in April by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Start with income being up 87 percent in Lea County. No other county broke 80 percent for the period.

These year-to-year income figures may look quite different when the 2009 numbers appear. That’s because statewide gross receipts declined starting in March 2009 and stayed there for a year. The drop in gross receipts no doubt reflects the nine-month drop in total personal income starting with the third quarter of 2008. People were earning less and finally reduced spending.

Total personal income across New Mexico increased two-tenths of one percent from the third quarter of 2008 through the end of 2009. Inflation, happily low as it is, will have more than wiped out this tiny increase.

Employment figures also suggest incomes likely changed for the worse. In April 2008, Lea County showed 28,972 people employed, with 673 unemployed and a 2.3 percent unemployment rate. There were 29,646 in the county labor force.

Two years later, in April 2010, with national and state recessions and the ugly effect of Richardson administration oil industry policies (the latter argument from the industry), the labor force is down 4.7 percent, employment has dropped 2,924 (10.1 percent) and unemployment has more than doubled to 2,233. The unemployment rate is now 7.9 percent.

Side note: Lea County is the oft-cited birthplace of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the Democratic candidate for governor.

All that said, let’s look around the numbers.

A traditional myth for New Mexico is that the money is in the metro areas. I have pushed that notion, but no more.

From 2000 to 2008, metro area per capita income grew 40 percent. Rural area income grew 60 percent. To be sure, metro incomes remain $4,600 ahead of rural incomes. But the gap was $6,000 in 2000.

Lea County led the state in both dollar and percentage eight-year income growth. Oil and nuclear explain the happiness. Adjacent Eddy County was the only one close in percentage income growth, with a 79 percent increase.

However, all was not sunny for the 26 rural counties. Only a dozen beat the 60 percent rural growth rate. Others, “led” by Harding County, with 17.8 percent eight-year income growth, did far worse. Union County was next worst with 20.8 percent growth.

Harding and Union counties are both losing population. People are getting out of Dodge, er, Clayton and Mosquero, seeking other opportunities.

Sandoval County, one of the seven metro counties, offers another surprise with 29.6 percent income growth, outperformed, as it were, by only Harding and Union. Bernalillo was another metro laggard with 34 percent growth. These two, aided by 37 percent income growth in Valencia County, took metro Albuquerque to 34 percent income growth.

Other surprises lurk in the income numbers. Taos and Socorro Counties were the other counties with more than 70 percent growth over the eight years.

To get to the stuff that counts, the candidates for governor, Democrat Diane Denish and Susan Martinez, the Republican, should follow the money and the people. Understanding that 71.5 percent income growth in Taos County might be the source of an economic development policy for Northern New Mexico. Or not. The candidates should learn what happened.