Why per capita income matters

The health of an economy is measured by the prosperity of its people. One way to measure prosperity is to look at per capita income, which takes the total income  in a given region, be it a county or state, and divides it by the total population. There are other metrics, such as median income (the value of median income is that it eliminates the influence of super rich outliers that boost an area’s income), but whichever one you use, they are valuable tools that let us know how we’re doing when it comes to improving our economy.

The Maine Development Foundation yesterday released its quarterly economic report, this one a deep dive into Maine’s per capita personal income.

Looking at per capita personal income in each of Maine’s counties presents an interesting snapshot of our regional economic health. As you can see in the two maps included  in my article, the state’s rim counties shaded dark red to show the highest levels of poverty are the same as those shaded light green to show the lowest levels of per capita income. The report also shows that counties with the highest poverty rates (Washington and Piscataquis) also had the highest percentage of income from government transfer payments like Social Security and Medicaid.

While these are not new revelations, taking a closer look at from where personal income is derived is an important element in any policy debate, as policies that work in Cumberland County may not be appropriate for Washington County, and vice versa.

The report was based on 2011 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which are the most recent reliable figures available. However, the BEA has released preliminary figures for 2012 (preliminary figures are often adjusted, sometimes significantly, after the fact) that show Maine’s per capita personal income improved slightly, to $40,087.

That’s the right direction. We should continue to promote activities and initiatives that seek to boost the number of jobs, which will generate income for people and help fuel economic growth. If we do that, we should continue to see that per capita income figure rise.

BDN Maine Focus

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