Monday, May 27, 2019

40 Years of Household Income Trends in Rural America

One of the best measurements of the overall economic performance of a region is median household income of its residents. Household income is the combined gross income of all members in a household. Median household income is the median of all households in a region. A comparison of median household income is a good way to study the economic experiences of different regions.

In the new report The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 (2nd edition) we made a series of comparisons of long-term economic and population trends between Adirondack communities and other areas across New York, the U.S. and Rural America from 1970 to 2010. The U.S. Census provides median household income data as a standard field in its surveys. We only had to adjust the data for inflation.

In this report we aggregated the data of the 61 towns that are 100% within the Blue Line. These towns had 100,600 residents in 2010 and represented 77.4% of the estimated population of 130,000 of the Adirondack Park. In the report we refer to these as the Park Towns. We compared the experiences of the Park Towns with other areas. For median household income we compared both the changes in median household income from 1970 to 2010 and the 2010 medians.

An overview of the report is provided here. An explanation of the methods used is provided here.

Flat wages of the majority of Americans is an issue in our current national political debate. Flat wages in the past four decades was clearly evident in our analysis of median household income. From 1970 to 2010, when adjusted for inflation, median household income across New York State and the U.S. was largely flat. New York grew at just 0.7% from $61,331 to $61,755. The U.S. experienced an overall decrease of -0.6%, dropping over these 40 years from $55,350 to $55,031.

By comparison, in those 40 years the Park Towns (the 61 towns 100% within the Blue Line) saw growth in median household income of 5.8% and Split Towns (the 31 towns split by the Blue Line) grew by 10.4%. The Park Towns grew from $46,268 in 1970 to $48,955 in 2010.

How did the Park Towns’ 5.8% growth in median household income from 1970 to 2010 compare with other areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns had a higher growth in median household income than that of 59% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York State, areas with 62% of the state’s population. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 51% of U.S. counties, areas with 64% of the U.S. population.

How did the Park Towns’ 5.8% growth in median household income from 1970 to 2010 compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth of 5.8% in median household income was higher than that of 52% of Rural America counties, areas with over 63% of the population of Rural America. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 79% of Rural America counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 79% of the population of the Rural Northeast.

One of the main purposes of The Adirondack Park and Rural America report was to see if the economic experience of Adirondack communities was fundamentally different than that of other areas in the U.S., especially rural areas, during the last four decades. This was a time when environmental protections were strengthened in the Adirondack Park. There is nothing in long-term median household income trends that showed that the Park Towns were hampered or somehow lagged behind New York, the U.S. or Rural America. In fact, Adirondack communities experienced stronger growth in median household income than areas with 64% of the U.S. population in the lower 48 states and 63% of the population of Rural America.

In 2010, the Park Towns had a median household income of $48,955. How did this stack up with other areas? The median household income of Adirondack communities in 2010 was higher than that of 36% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York, areas with 34% of the state’s population. It was higher than that of 70% of U.S. counties, home to 37% of the U.S. population.

When compared to Rural America, Adirondack communities were also in a strong position. The 62 Park Towns in 2010 had a median household income higher than that of 85% of the counties in Rural America, home to 83% of the Rural America population. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a higher median income than that of 70% of the rural counties in the Northeast U.S., home to 67% of the rural population in the northeast.


The sheer geography of the land areas involved is important to note. The 5.8% growth in median household income between 1970 and 2010 of the 61 Park Towns was greater than that of 529 out of 906 towns, etc., in New York State, 1,575 out of 3,090 counties in the U.S., and 1,009 out of 1,941 counties in Rural America. The 2010, the median household income of Adirondack communities was higher than 329 out of 906 towns, etc., in New York State, 2,170 out of 3,090 counties in the U.S., and 1,641 out of 1,941 counties in Rural America. A study of this indicator found that Adirondack Park communities compared favorably. There is no evidence in the long- or short-terms that Adirondack communities have had a negative experience that stands out from other areas across New York State, the U.S. or Rural America.

Analysis of median household income trends from 1970 to 2010 showed that Park Towns’ households saw their income grow at a greater rate than did the majority of areas across New York State, the U.S., and Rural America. The experiences of Adirondack communities do not stand out in any negative way during these years, despite the growth of environmental protections for the region. If there had been a punitive and negative impact on Adirondack communities, as alleged day-in and day-out during these years, it would have been clearly seen in a comparison of median household incomes between Adirondack communities and other regions. If there were a negative impact, it would have been evidenced in median household income trends that showed that Adirondack communities lagged far behind other areas in the U.S., especially other rural areas. The data did not show this.

The reality is that the 61 Adirondack Park towns studied in this report, a group which had 77.4% of the Park’s population in 2010, experienced growth in their median household income from 1970 to 2010 that was greater than that of areas with nearly two-thirds of the New York State and U.S. populations. A comparison of the median household income in 2010 between Adirondack communities and other rural areas showed that Adirondack communities had a median household income that was greater than that of rural areas with over 83% of the population of Rural America.

Click here for an online version of the report and click here for a PDF.

Note: The original edition of The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 incorrectly classified the town of Lake Luzerne in Warren County as a town that is 100% within the Adirondack Park Blue Line; it is split by the Blue Line. There are 92 towns within the Adirondack Park; 61 are 100% within the Park’s boundary, while 31 are split. The original report had 62 towns entirely within the Blue Line and 30 split by it. This mistake has been corrected, and all the statistical analyses have been re-run. The updated 2nd edition of this report is published in PDF and linked online here. A 2nd print edition will also be distributed. While scores of numbers saw minor changes, the various analyses throughout the report—the sum and substance of the report—remain substantiated and unchanged. 

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.

Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.

Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.




17 Responses

  1. Jack B says:

    I agree, there is a lot of gibberish here. For me, I classify everything in life (except for family, real friends, and faith) under either Bullship or Chickenship. In this case it’s definitely Bullship.

  2. Beth Pashley says:

    I am confused (maybe I’m suppose to be?) In paragraph 6 it states ” How did the Park Towns’ 5.8% growth in median household income from 1970 to 2010 compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth of 7.5% in median household income was higher than that of 52% of Rural America counties, areas with over 63% of the population of Rural America.” Was the growth 5.8% or 7.5%?
    Another important factor that should be addressed is the increase in property and/or housing costs from 1970 to 2010. It far exceeds 5.8% or even 7.5%.

    • Cristine Meixner says:

      Good catch!

    • Beth. Good catch. Thank you. Should be 5.8% as stated in the 2nd edition of the report. See page report pages 16-19. Sentence has been corrected to read: “From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth of 5.8% in median household income was higher than that of 52% of Rural America counties, areas with over 63% of the population of Rural America. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 79% of Rural America counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 79% of the population of the Rural Northeast.”

  3. Cristine Meixner says:

    “In fact, Adirondack communities experienced stronger growth in median household income than areas with 64% of the U.S. population in the lower 48 states and 63% of the population of Rural America.”… Is there a way to separate the year-round residents who stayed here for their working years from second home owners who have retired to their vacation home and now live here full-time? Or from those who claim a Park Town as their residence but actually live and work somewhere else?

    • Data is for all residents, people who are working here, people who worked here for their careers and chose to stay when they retired, and retirees who moved here.

      • adkDreamer says:

        As if all rural towns used in this comparison assessment are: equal in size, equal in economic activity, equal in demographics, etc. and/or some weird notion that rural areas can be compared to provide any meaningful interpretation. I am not convinced by the reports’ so called findings nor its oversimplified methods, odd categorizations complete with cherry picked numbers, and the glaring omission of statistical error.

        There is nothing remarkable or actionable produced in the report.

  4. William Quinlivan says:

    I may be wrong here, but I believe that the Adirondack towns may have seen median household income increase because of the increase in the population mix of wealthier retirees coming into the park as residents. If this is the case, then the “growth” has nothing to do with being self-generated by the region and is not sustainable beyond a generation.

    The positive aspect of this growth in median household income is that one assumes there is growth in disposable income as well. If this holds true and is used to attract small clean businesses to the region to capitalize on this trend thus providing opportunities and jobs for younger people wishing to stay or move to the region because of this economic abnormality, then we would be taking something that is a relative short-term situation and using it as a growth engine for more sustainable, clean, healthy, economic growth going forward. In my opinion, touting these figures for anything otherwise is a bit of a sham. This is not self-generated growth and we are just fooling ourselves.

    • Bill, median household income needs to be viewed in context with per capita income, poverty rates, employment rate, and self-employment rates. Individually these data tell us part of the story, together they provide a fuller portrait. These data also allow us to make a meaningful comparison with other areas, which is helpful for understanding trends in the Adirondacks. The full report has the whole story, this series is a break out of indicator by indicator.

  5. Worth Gretter says:

    I like to see statistics which use the median, because the average can be misleading. For example, when the average cost of buying a house goes up, it is meaningless because a few rich people buying very expensive houses can pull the average way up. A person trying to buy a house wants to know how the median cost changes, not the average.

    In the case of median household income, however, it would be nice to also see the average. I suspect it has gone up by 50% or as much as 100%, even when adjusted for inflation. There are a lot of affluent people who are doing really well, and they would pull the average up. Ironically, many of them own second homes in the Adirondack park, but don’t live full time there or earn their income there. and thus aren’t counted in these statistics.

  6. Paul says:

    I see the point of all this but in the end there is absolutely no way to prove any correlation between a rural area suffering less than other rural areas because of the formation of the Adirondack Park, land protection, and strict land use rules, etc. Think of all the other things that have happened over that long period of time that also did or didn’t happen in these other areas. No way to control for other factors.

    • What you talk about about would be a much bigger study. We wanted to see if Adirondack communities, or at least the places where 77.4% of Park residents live, stood out in any way from other areas, especially rural areas. If there was a special burden experienced by Park communities then we would expect to see this in 40 years of economic and population trends. This report is largely a comparison of data and trends between regions. We do not speculate as to the causes.

      Others have suggested followup studies of Park communities with counties with high percentages of public land, high % of forest cover, with areas with high tourist/scenic amenity values, or with rural areas that also recruit retirees, among other things. We also talk about this is our “Recommendations” section.

  7. Worth Gretter says:

    One of the other factors that comes to mind is family size. Maybe households get bigger if young people can’t afford to live on their own and stay longer with their parents. In the other direction, divorces would push household income down, since two incomes would be in two separate households, not one shared households.

  8. John Marona says:

    Median household income in NY $61,755, within the blueline $48,955, Gas etc. is more expensive here, I’ve got to drive an hour to a Wallmart etc., etc., but, hay,I’m livin’ the high life. Now, I don’t think environmental regulations effect this very much which is the point of the article. But most of us live here for reasons other the crappy monetary standard of living.

  9. […] 40 Yrs of Household Income in Rural America, Adks […]

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