Five Counties That Made The Biggest Jump in Median Household Income Since The Recession

Published on Sep 28, 2011

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

image of Lightcast gradiant

Stories of cities and regions whose economies have been ravaged by the recession are plentiful. The New York Times documented another case last week — this time focusing on Greenwood County, S.C.and alongside it provided an intriguing graphic to show the states and counties with the largest decreases (and increases) in poverty rate and median household income from 2007 to 2010.

According to analysis of Census data by demographer Andrew Beveridge of Queens College, poverty rates rose in every state during this time and household income dropped in all but five states (Nebraska, the Dakotas, Virginia, and West Virginia). The data is especially striking for Greenwood County: The once-strong textile mill district in South Carolina saw its poverty rate double (a 12.4% increase) and median household income plummet 27.8% since 2007.

On the opposite spectrum, the Times‘ graphic listed five counties whose median household income soared at least 20%. Using Analyst, we looked at EMSI data from ’07 to ’10 for each of these counties to see the sectors contributing to the spike in income — i.e, those that offer high-paying earnings per job and added jobs during what was a rough time for much of the country.

EMSI’s data and analysis help pinpoint growing industries that pay well enough to increase each county’s income. Our research also shows, however, that there are important caveats about each county’s income growth.

EMSI’s data and analysis help pinpoint growing industries that pay well enough to increase each county’s income. Our research also shows, however, that there are important caveats about each county’s income growth — some saw temporary or one-year hiring booms, others are home to college towns where the recession has not been felt as much.

A few important notes: EMSI’s industry earnings figures are an average for jobs by place of work and are for the current year only; median household income is by place of residence and can include transfer payments like Social Security, food stamps and unemployment benefits — as well as dividends/interest/rents — all of which are not included in any form in industry earnings. Also, EMSI earnings estimates include supplements (employer contributions to employee pensions, insurance funds, profit-sharing plans, etc.), which are substantial for federal government jobs and certain other industries. All jobs and earnings figures reported below are from EMSI’s latest Complete Employment dataset (2011.3), which includes proprietors. Recent years of proprietor data (2010-11) are still estimates due to lag time in Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) releases.

1. Monongalia County, W.Va.

This county in north-central West Virginia — home to the state university in Morgantown — has been buoyed by construction, which has shrunk in much of the rest of the US. Employment in Monongalia County jumped 7.2% from 2007 to 2010, and a quarter of all new jobs came in nonresidential building construction (1,159 jobs, 270% growth), an industry with estimated 2011 average annual earnings per job of $107,000 — compared to $71,000 for the state. Much of this job growth stems from the addition of a large power plant, which was completed earlier this year (so don’t be surprised by a big employment dropoff in this sector in future years).

Another well-paying growth industry since the recession has been pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing (533 jobs, 28% growth), which has average earnings per job of $89,000 in Monongalia County. The biggest regional employer in this sector is Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which, when cross-checked with, appears to have grown from 2009 to 2010.

Another reason for Monongalia’s strong numbers: Its largest city is a college town — and, as USA TODAY noted, “In smaller cities in particular, anchor institutions such as universities and governments have provided a buffer against economic whiplash. Often the main employers in the city and metropolitan area, these segments are less affected by economic fluctuations.”

Click on the image for a larger version.

2. Muskogee County, Okla.

Employment in this eastern Oklahoma county dropped 1.5% overall from 2007 to 2010, with the largest decline in manufacturing. But Muskogee County experienced a big jump in government jobs, particularly in federal government (713 jobs, 40%) stemming from the Department of Veterans Affairs presence there. The average earnings per job in federal government for the county is $102,000 with supplements (which are a large component for federal jobs) — compared to $47,000 for local government and $49,000 for state government.

Paper mills (306 jobs, 40%) is another high-paying sector ($83,000) that has fared well thanks to Georgia-Pacific (which, via Indeed, appears to have been hiring). Meanwhile, health care has also grown Muskogee County since ’07. Home health care services (64%) and outpatient care centers (88%) are two robust industries.

3. Scioto County, Ohio

Scioto County, on the Ohio-Kentucky border, saw big losses across manufacturing, construction, and retail trade from ’07 to ’10. It lost 3% of its jobs during that time, but there were spots of growth — most notably with small subsectors such as petroleum and coal products manufacturing (88% growth) and basic organic chemical manufacturing (50%). Both offer lucrative earnings. However, initial estimates show chemical manufacturing declining in 2011. One of the region’s employers in this sector, Sunoco Chemicals, recently sold its phenol manufacturing facility to Haverhill Chemicals as part of a spinning off of its chemical business.

Shawnee State University, Ohio’s newest university, is in Scioto County (see our note above on college towns). Meanwhile, warehouse clubs and supercenters went from zero reported jobs in ’07 to an estimated 462 jobs in 2010, possibly a result of an industry reclassification rather than new jobs.

4. St. Mary’s County, Md.

In this county, two well-paying industries have made large employment jumps since 2007 — federal government (civilian, except postal service) and engineering services. The county added more than 1,000 new federal government jobs, most likely the result of the naval complex in the region, and the average earnings per job is nearly $150,000 annually when you factor in supplements.

Other big gainers since 2007: R&D in physical, engineering, and life science (82% growth, 377 jobs); administrative management and general management consulting services (27%, 303 jobs); and market research and public opinion polling (2,017% growth, 242 jobs). Each offers average earnings per job between $87,000 and $116,000.

5. Nassau County, Fla.

This county saw employment dip 5% from 2007 to 2010, with the biggest loss coming in local government (-517 jobs) and hotels and motels (-428 jobs).

But several well-paying industries were added to the northern Florida county during this period, namely pulp mills (from zero to 173 jobs, growth that might stem from an industry reclassification and not new jobs) and general medical and surgical hospitals (122 jobs).

Nassau County is part of the Jacksonville metro area, and remember — median household income is by place of residence, so residents could be commuting outside the county for work.

Read more on EMSI data here or contact us.