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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.