More Arkansans have acquired a bachelor’s degree in the last five years as compared to the previous five years, but median income in the state has slightly dropped during the same period, according to the American Community Survey.
Poverty rates in the state among 18- to 64-year olds grew, while the number of people speaking another language in their homes other than English rose slightly. It’s not typical for the Natural State to have wide-ranging fluctuations in the 40 categories outlined in the survey, Arkansas Economic Development Institute Executive Director Jim Youngquist told Talk Business & Politics
These economic, health, cultural, and other indicators give state leaders a snapshot of the life conditions within the state and where the trend lines are moving, he said. Information like this can be a key tool in public policy decisions in the future, and can help entire industries, such as health, make decisions about how to proceed in the future, he said. Only significant statistical changes in the 40 categories were noted in the report released by AEDI.
“It gives people an idea of the state of the state, with regard to how our people are doing economically,” he said.
One key metric, median income was down during the survey period from 2012-2016, when compared to 2007-2011. Between 2012 and 2016, the state’s median household income was $42,336, a decrease from $42,857 during 2007-2011, a nearly 1% decrease. It came at a time when the U.S. median income has increased 3.2% in 2016 alone, to $59,039. In Arkansas, 11 counties (14.7%) experienced a decline in median household income, while median household income increased in three counties (4%). The counties which experienced an increase are Benton, Chicot, and St. Francis counties.
AEDI economist Dr. Michael Pakko said there is no explanation for why the decline occurred. Wages have been stagnant in recent years, and fluctuations this small are common when surveys and analysis are conducted. The U.S. Census Bureau may have tweaked the way it calculates the median income, and that could account for the slight difference. There could be lingering impacts from the Great Recession on wage growth during this period, but it can be hard to quantify, Youngquist said.
The number of bachelor’s degree holders grew even as the median income declined. The percent of the population 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree was 21.5% during the survey period. This is an increase from 19.6% from the 2007-2011 period. At least 21 counties (28%) experienced an increase in the percent of the population 25 years and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree, while the percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher declined in two counties (2.7%), Monroe and Sharp counties.
The state and 34 counties (45.3%) experienced an increase in the percent of the population 25 years and over with a high school diploma or higher. None of the counties had a decline. The increase in bachelors or higher degrees could be related to the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship, according to AEDI.
The state and 17 of its counties (22.7%) experienced an increase in the poverty rate for the those 18 to 64 years of age from 2007-2011 to 2012-2016. The rate grew 1.2 points to 17.8%. During the period no counties experienced a decrease in the 18 to 64 year poverty rate.
Between 2012 and 2016, 7.1% (197,665) of the population age five and older in Arkansas spoke a language other than English at home, an increase from 6.9% during the 2007-2011 survey period. Twelve counties in the state (16%) saw an increase in the percentage age 5 and over speaking a language other than English at home, while eight counties (10.7%) saw a decrease. The increase mirrored a national increase during the survey periods from 20.3% to 21.1%.
The national survey revealed other trends when the two survey periods were compared. Commute times for motorists are up 0.7 minutes to 26.1 minutes, nationwide. The longest drive times are in metro areas. Median gross rent rose slightly, by $21 to $949 per month. Changes are minimal in Arkansas in these surveyed areas, historically, Youngquist said.
“We do seem to experience great highs or lows (economically),” he said. “One person said ‘We just kind of mule along.’ We don’t have drastic rises or falls.”
Following are other results of the survey.
• There were 204,650 households in the $50,000-$74,999 income and benefit range. The number was 17.9% of all Arkansas households, the largest group by percentage. Just 2.6% of households reported income and benefits above $200,000.
• Median household income in 2016 dollars was $42,336.
• The survey found that 87.7% of Arkansans had some form of health insurance coverage.
• 94.6% of Arkansans were born in the United States.
• Only 0.6% of owner-occupied homes in Arkansas are valued at more than $1 million. The largest percentage of owner-occupied homes (26.5%) are valued between $50,000-$99,999.