Census shows big income drop in fast-growing areas

Shift could weigh big in elections

By Hope Yen
Associated Press / October 13, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Call it the migration bust: Many of the fast-growing US areas during the housing boom are now yielding some of the biggest income drops in the economic downturn.

That could have a broad impact on the political map in the coming weeks. Voters discontent over the economy and issues such as immigration head to the polls Nov. 2 to decide whether to keep Democrats in Congress.

Whites and blacks have taken big hits since 2007 in once-torrid Sunbelt regions offering warm climates and open spaces, including Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada, according to 2009 Census data. Hispanics suffered paycheck losses in many “new immigrant’’ destinations in the interior United States that previously offered construction jobs and affordable housing, such as Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Boston was among the few bright spots. With steady demand for government and high-tech work, the city joined Washington, D.C., San Jose, Calif., and San Francisco among those areas with the highest average household incomes.

“As a whole, the income changes represent a sharp U-turn from the mid-decade gains,’’ said William H. Frey, a demographer at The Brookings Institution who reviewed the household income data.

In December, the Census Bureau will release 2010 population counts, which triggers a politically contentious process of divvying up House seats. Southern and Western states are expected to take seats away from the Midwest and Northeast. But last-minute shifts could affect a handful of states hanging in the balance, including California, which is hoping to avoid losing its first seat ever, and Arizona, which may now gain just one seat rather than two, based partly on slowing Hispanic population growth.

The census data show that Hispanics, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority, are helping drive growth in southeastern parts of the nation. Their numbers have doubled over the past decade in five states — South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas. Other big gainers included Georgia and North Carolina.

Several of those states — South Carolina, Georgia, and possibly North Carolina — stand to gain House seats based partly on that fast growth.

At the same time, the Latino population remains a relatively smaller share of the population in those states, numbering about 8 percent or less. Latinos also tend to be disproportionately low-income workers who lack a high school education, speak mostly Spanish, and don’t vote in elections, which analysts say may be driving some of the tensions over immigration and jobs in some of those regions.

In recent months, the rhetoric has ranged from a call for English only in states and localities that wish to minimize the use of Spanish and other languages to a call to strip birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The Census Bureau posted additional 2009 findings. Among them:

■ Declining home values. Median values for owner-occupied homes dropped 5.8 percent last year to $185,200. They ranged from a high of $638,300 in San Jose to a low of $76,100 in McAllen, Texas. Five of the 10 highest property values were in California, with the rest in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, and Baltimore.

■ Increased welfare payments. About 2.6 percent of US households, or 3 million, received government cash payments for the poor, up from 2.3 percent in 2008. Residents of Alaska, Maine, Washington, and Michigan received the most aid.

■ Growth of college sciences. About 36.4 percent, or 20.5 million, of college graduates had a degree in the science and engineering fields. Five states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington — as well as the District of Columbia had science and engineering degrees above 40 percent. top stories on Twitter

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