Sunday, June 2, 2019

40 Years of Per Capita Income Trends in Rural America

The second major economic indicator that was examined in The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 was per capita income.

An analysis of per capita income trends was useful for evaluating differences between regions, especially when analyzed with a range of other economic indicators. Per capita income is the average income earned of a person within a specific geographic area, such as a city, town or state.

When adjusted for inflation, per capita income is an important measurement, though not as good as median household income, because it can be skewed by a few individuals with extremely high incomes in low population areas.

In the Adirondack Park, the 61 Park Towns 100% within the Blue Line, which included 77.4% of the Park’s estimated population in 2010, saw per capita income growth of 80.3% from 1970 to 2010. Per capita income rose across the U.S. in these decades, rising in New York State by 58.5% and in the U.S. by 57.9%. It’s important to note that per capita income in the U.S. rose over this 40-year time period at a time when the median household income level was flat.

In this report we aggregated the data of the 61 Park Towns, which were those that are 100% within the Blue Line, in order to compare Adirondack communities with other areas in the U.S. The purpose was to see if Adirondack communities stood out in any way from other places in trends of leading economic and population indicators from 1970 to 2010. Over these 40 years, the 61 Park Towns saw an increase of 80.3% in per capita income, which was similar to the 62% growth of the 31 Split Towns (those towns that are split by the Blue Line), and the 47 Rural New York towns (78.8%) that had a similar population density as the Park Towns. All of these areas exceeded the state and national levels of growth in per capita income over the 40 years from 1970 to 2010.

In 2010, the Park Towns had a per capita income of $26,217, which lagged behind the New York State level of $27,274, though it topped the national level of $23,300. The Park Towns’ per capita income was higher than that of all other rural areas studied in the report (see the two tables below).

How did the Park Towns’ 80.3% growth in per capita income from 1970 to 2010 compare with other areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns had a higher growth in per capita income than that of 66% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York State, areas with 76% of the state’s population. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 69% of U.S. counties, areas with 80% of the U.S. population.

How did the Park Towns’ 80.3% growth in per capita income from 1970 to 2010 compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth of 80.3% in per capita income was higher than that of 71% of Rural America counties, areas with over 78% of the population of Rural America. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 86% of Rural America counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 89% 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 through the creation of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and a sustained period of land protection. There is nothing in long-term per capita income trends that showed that the Park Towns experienced some kind of penalty or lagged behind New York, the U.S. or Rural America. In fact, Adirondack communities experienced stronger growth in per capita income than areas with 80% of the U.S. population in the lower 48 states and 78% of the population of Rural America.

In 2010, the Park Towns had a per capita income of $26,217. How did Adirondack Park communities stack up with other areas? The per capita income of Adirondack communities in 2010 was higher than that of 52% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York, areas with 37% of the state’s population. It was higher than that of 74% of U.S. counties, home to 40% of the U.S. population.

When compared to Rural America, Adirondack communities were in a stronger position. The 61 Park Towns in 2010 had a per capita income higher than that of 85% of the counties in Rural America, home to 86% of the Rural America population. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a higher per capita income in 2010 than that of 73% of the rural counties in the Northeast U.S., home to 70% of the rural population in the northeast.

The sheer geography of the land areas involved is important to note. The 80.3% growth in per capita income between 1970 and 2010 of the 61 Park Towns was greater than that of 599 out of 904 towns, etc., in New York State, 2,132 out of 3,090 counties in the U.S., and 1,367 out of 1,939 counties in Rural America. The 2010, the per capita income of Adirondack communities was higher than 475 out of 906 towns, etc., in New York State, 2,288 out of 3,096 counties in the U.S., and 1,649 out of 1,941 counties in Rural America.

Analysis of per capita income trends from 1970 to 2010 showed that the experiences of Adirondack communities did not stand out in any negative way during these years, despite the growth of environmental protections for the region. 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 per capita income from 1970 to 2010 that was greater than that of areas with over three-quarters of the New York State and U.S. populations. A comparison of the per capita income in 2010 between Adirondack communities and other rural areas showed that Adirondack communities had a per capita income that was higher than that of rural areas with over 86% of the population of Rural America. Per capita income is one economic indicator among many that should be evaluated to understand the economic conditions of a region. The growth of per capita income in the Park Towns from 1970 to 2010 was consistent with the growth of median household income, and is consistent with the poverty rate and employment trends, which will be the focus of the next articles in this series.

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

Related Stories


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.




5 Responses

  1. Peter Brownsey says:

    The Adirondack Park has had a large influx of retirees with large pensions and savings on income earned outside the Park. Park living is more expensive than outside the but the environment and solitude is well worth it. Most of the residents that must earn their income inside the park have a hard time just earn a living wage because of the the high cost of living and property taxes.

  2. RA Weissel says:

    Good point! Can you look at only ‘earned income’?

  3. Glenn L. Pearsall says:

    Interesting article and data. That said, I sense article is self-serving. As one commentator has already pointed out, rich folks retiring to the Adirondacks clearly can distort the numbers. Perhaps more meaningful might be median earned (W2) income versus per capita income. Further, comparing rural NYS to the rest of rural US does not account for onerous NYS taxes and the higher cost of living here.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *