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Oil, gas boom lifts personal income in USA

7:57 PM, Nov 26, 2012   |    comments
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By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY 

The nation's oil and gas boom is driving up income so fast in a few hundred small towns and rural areas that the entire USA is floating upward because of it, a USA TODAY analysis of new government data shows.

The 261 million people who live in cities and suburbs still haven't recovered earning power lost in the economic downturn. Average income per person fell 3.5% in metropolitan areas between 2007 and 2011 after adjusting for inflation, according to data released Monday by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

By contrast, small-town America is better off than before: Inflation-adjusted income is up 3.8% per person since 2007 for the 51 million in small cities, towns and rural areas.

The oil and gas boom has reversed, at least temporarily, a long-term trend of money flowing to urban areas. Last year, small places saw a 3% growth in income per person vs. 1.8% in metropolitan areas.

Small-town prosperity is most noticeable in North Dakota, now the nation's No. 2 oil-producing state. Six of the top 10 counties are above the state's oil field.

"Give us a little shale, and we'll show some pretty good income growth, too," says Bill Connors, president of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce in neighboring Idaho.

The Boise area's rank in average income per person fell from 139th to 251st among 368 metro areas from 2007 to 2011, faster than anyplace except Las Vegas, largely because of high-tech layoffs and a real estate price collapse.

Other findings:

Richest. The Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn., metro area had income of $78,504 per person in 2011, making the suburban New York City community the richest in the USA for the past decade. The oil community of Midland, Texas, was next, followed by the high-tech metro areas of San Francisco and San Jose.

Poorest. Three Texas metro areas were the poorest - McAllen, Brownsville and Laredo. Among metro areas having 200,000 or more residents, the poorest was Lake Charles, La.

Surprising. Rochester, N.Y., moved up the income rankings faster than any other big metro area despite suffering layoffs and other financial woes at Kodak and other employers. Its $41,683 per person income rose 21 spots since 2007 to No. 43 among the 102 metro areas of 500,000 or more.

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