U.S Census Bureau figures released this week show the economic recession hit Nebraska hard in 2009, lowering the median household income and increasing poverty rates statewide.
According to the 2009 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), Nebraska’s median household income fell from $49,731 to $47,470 between 2008 and 2009. This ranked the state 30th nationally — below the U.S. median household income, which slumped from $52,029 to $50,221.
In Platte County, annual household incomes dropped from $48,221 to $46,400 over that time.
Maryland, $69,193, and Mississippi, $36,764, had the nation’s highest and lowest median household incomes, respectively, among states in 2009.
David Drozd, research coordinator at University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research, said the lower median household income numbers for Nebraska were no surprise, as inflation-adjusted incomes have been on the decline since 2005.
“It was a little bit larger in magnitude, but we’ve been on the negative side the last couple of years,” he said, adding that the annual income will often fluctuate, especially in agricultural states.
Perhaps as a direct result of the lower wages, poverty rates also took a drastic jump both nationally and across Nebraska.
Nebraska’s 12.2 percent rate in 2009 — a 1.4 percent increase from 2008 — ranked the state 17th nationally and meant approximately 212,312 residents were living in poverty. For children under the age of 18, the rate stood at 15.3 percent.
Across the entire U.S., poverty rates moved from 13.2 to 14.3 percent between 2008 and 2009, taking the approximate number of Americans living in poverty from 39.1 million to 42.9 million. During 2009, 20 percent of Americans under the age of 18 resided in poverty-level homes.
New Hampshire and Mississippi faired the best and worst among the 50 states when comparing poverty levels with rates of 8.6 and 21.8 percent, respectively.
Approximately 2,839 Platte County residents, or 8.9 percent of the total population, lived in poverty during 2009, a 1.2 percent increase from the 2008 total of 2,446.
Drozd credited Columbus’ stable industries for the lower poverty rates in Platte County and the surrounding areas when compared to those in rural western Nebraska counties.
“In general, areas that are larger in size have a little lower poverty rates, just because there are more jobs available,” Drozd said.
During 2000, poverty rates for the U.S. (11.3 percent), Nebraska (8.9 percent) and Platte County (7.3 percent) were all significantly lower.
Drozd cautioned against looking too deeply into Nebraska poverty rates, as income standards are often unchanged from state to state.
“In areas where it is cheaper to live, poverty is often overstated a bit,” he said.
SAIPE combines the latest American Community Survey data with aggregate data from federal tax information, administrative records on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation, 2000 Census statistics and annual population estimates. The data is used by state and local programs for distributing funds and managing school programs, and as one of the criteria to allocate federal funds to local jurisdictions.
Thurston County had the highest poverty rate at 26.1 percent. Sarpy County held the lowest poverty rate at 5.3 percent, and also offered the highest median household income, $67,541. Brown County had the state’s lowest median household income at $27,318.