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An income drop in GF?

Did the recession or other factors really cause median household income in Grand Forks County to fall by 13 percent from 2008 to 2009, as estimates released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate?...

North Dakota census figures

Did the recession or other factors really cause median household income in Grand Forks County to fall by 13 percent from 2008 to 2009, as estimates released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate?

In the same period, the bureau data indicates, median household income for North Dakota as a whole increased by more than 4 percent.

Regional economists advise against panic.

"Those numbers for Grand Forks Country are surprising," Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota State Data Center in Fargo, said Wednesday. The year-to-year drop in household income "is much higher than I would have expected," even with lingering effects of the national recession.

Rathge said he would have to "dig deeper into the data" released by the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to properly analyze the income estimates, but he cautioned that the survey numbers are built on samples "and there is a margin of error."


Another surprise came Wednesday in Fargo, where local officials were shocked to see the American Community Survey's 2009 population estimate for the city set at 95,500, down from 97,800 in 2008.

"It appears we have gone down, which I don't think is true," Rathge said, but the statistical problem may have occurred with the 2008 estimate.

"Last year's number (for 2008) was, I think, on the high side," he said, "so I think the number we see for Fargo now is a pretty good number."

(The data released this week showed Grand Forks County with a population of 66,414 in 2009, down slightly from 66,585 in 2008. No estimates were provided for Grand Forks and other cities.)

Household income

Grand Forks County's median household income was estimated at $41,880 in 2009, compared to $48,145 the year before.

In all of North Dakota, median household income rose from $45,685 in 2008 to $47,827 last year.

"That's including much of the western part of the state where income has gone up tremendously" because of the oil boom, Rathge said.


With regard to the Grand Forks County numbers, he said a number of factors could have come into play. "We were in the midst of a sizable recession in those years," he said. "There may have been changes in specific industries that affected the movement of people in and out of Grand Forks County."

Rathge said that data analyzed independently by the North Dakota Data Center indicated that people moving out of Grand Forks County from 2007 to 2008 had higher incomes on average than those coming in. The net disparity amounted to $13 million.

"But I don't know how much that explains" the new Census Bureau numbers, he said. "It could be that the sample in 2008 included more people with higher incomes, and the sample in 2009 included more people with lower incomes."

Ralph Kingsbury, a Grand Forks economist and frequent contributor to the Herald, said he has discounted the Census Bureau's American Community Survey results in the past because "there were too many wild swings in their figures."

One problem with the median household income figures, he said, may be that Census Bureau formulas that work fine in such populated states as California and New York "just don't work for North Dakota with our few people."

The American Community Survey for 2005 put median household income in Grand Forks County at $42,099. In 2006, the figure fell to $39,715, but it rebounded in 2007 to $42,475.

The poverty line

This week's data provided other checks on the county's economic health. About 15.1 percent of people in the county reported incomes below the poverty level in 2009, up from 12 percent in 2008, according to the Census Bureau.


But the survey found the proportion of children living below poverty level in 2009 was 12.8 percent, below the 2008 figure of 15.3 percent.

For complete results of the 2009 and earlier surveys, click here .

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