Call it the migration bust: Many of the fastest-growing areas of the country during the housing boom are now yielding some of the biggest drops in income as a result of the economic downturn.
That could have broad impact on the political map in the coming weeks. Voter discontent over the economy and related issues such as immigration could play a role in whether Democrats retain control of Congress in November’s midterm vote.
Incomes for both whites and blacks have taken big hits since 2007 in once-torrid Sunbelt regions offering warm climates and open spaces, including Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, according to 2009 census data. Hispanics suffered paycheck losses in many “new immigrant” destinations in the interior U.S., such as Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.
The few bright spots: Washington, D.C., San Jose, Calif., San Francisco and Boston, where household incomes remained among the highest in the nation last year partly due to steady demand for government and high-tech work.
“As a whole, the income changes represent a sharp U-turn from the mid-decade gains,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who reviewed the household income data. “The last two years have left those who couldn’t move stuck in places with lower incomes.”
In December, the Census Bureau will release 2010 population counts, which trigger a politically contentious process of divvying up House seats. In all, Southern and Western states are expected to take seats away the Midwest and Northeast.
But last-minute shifts could affect a handful of states hanging in the balance, including California, which is hoping to avoid losing its first seat ever, and Arizona, which may now gain just one seat rather than two based partly on slowing Hispanic population growth.
The census data show that Hispanics, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group, are helping drive growth in several Southern states.
Five states have seen their numbers double over the last decade - South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas in the South and South Dakota in the Upper Midwest. Other big gainers include Georgia and North Carolina.
Several of those states, South Carolina, Georgia and possibly North Carolina, stand to gain House seats based on current projections of their population growth.
At the same time, the Latino population remains a relatively smaller share of the population in those states, numbering about 8 percent or less. There, they also tend to be disproportionately low-income workers who lack a high school education, speak mostly Spanish and don’t vote in elections, which analysts say may be driving some of the tensions over immigration and jobs.
Nationally, the government reported last month that median household incomes dipped to $49,777, the lowest since 1997, with the sharpest drop-offs in the Midwest and Northeast. Broken down by race, blacks had the biggest income losses, dropping to $32,584. They were followed by non-Hispanic whites, whose income fell to $54,461. Asian incomes remained flat at $65,469.
Income among Hispanics edged higher but lagged whites significantly at $38,039.
The findings are part of a broad array of 2009 data released over the past month that have highlighted the impact of the recession - from soaring poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor to record levels of food stamp use.