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.
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.
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.