Red Willow County poorest in state? We don't think so

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Red Willow County is the poorest in Nebraska, reports USA Today, citing a 24/7 Wall St. analysis of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Yes, we have an unemployment rate of just 3.1 percent, and only 13 percent of people lived in poverty between 2009 and 2013, compared to a national figure of 15.4 percent, according to the figures.

But the annual median income of $42,345 over the five years prior to 2013 was the lowest in Nebraksa, $10,000 lower than the state average, the story noted.

Not so fast, said several local officials who responded to an email from the Gazette.

"My opinion is that the article is really misleading," said Rebecca Dutcher, executive director of the mcCook Housing Agency/East Ward Village.

Red Willow County's median income is more than 81 percent of the state's median.

That's "not surprising, since Red Willow is a rural county and the Nebraska median income is probably based more on urban areas, since the population is so much greater than it is here," she said.

Some counties have a median income less than half of their state's median income, Dutcher added, and the article says nothing about Red Willow County's relatively low cost of living.

"The big picture shows below the national average for unemployment and low poverty numbers for Red Willow County," she said. Counties with below 50 percent of their state's median income, and high poverty and unemployment rates are the counties in poor shape, she said, not Red Willow County.

Councilman Bruce McDowell said while he'd rather spotlight the positive parts about living in this area, he would certainly like to see Red Willow County's median household income rise, relative to the rest of the state.

"There are a lot of good things about living in Red Willow County even if income isn't one of them. We need to focus on the positive aspects of living in this area."

Mayor Mike Gonzales said he did read the USA Today article, and "if Red Willow County is the poorest county in the State of Nebrsaka, as a whole, Nebraska must be in pretty good shape."

He noted we had the lowest unemployment rate of the 52 other counties in the story, and said he knows of "several businesses in McCook that struggle to find enough people to work."

Gonzales also noted Red Willow County had the second lowest poverty rate of 12.7 percent, with only Connectiut being lower.

He also pointed out the statement "While incomes were relatively low, residents were much better off than residents of the poorest counties in most other states."

After today's print edition had gone to press, we received this response from Rex Nelson, executive director of the McCook Economic Development Corp.:

"My perception has been that McCook's geographic isolation has been a factor in employee pay scales not keeping up with the urban centers. With increasing mobility and sharing of information such as internet job boards that compare wage rates, combined with a stronger local economy, this shows some signs of positive change.

"Between 2000 and 2010, Red Willow County average earnings per job increased 28.7 percent, outpacing the United States rate of 2.3%. Clearly we have a ways to go to achieve the kind of incomes we would like to see."

We'd like to see some other numbers, such as how McCook's income figures are affected by the proportion of retired residents and how many of those own their own homes outright as well as comparisons of the cost of living to elsewhere.

Crunched in a less superficial way, we're sure the numbers would put Red Willow County in a better light.

And, there are definitely other factors that can be used to measure well-being we haven't thought of and which can't be measured on a 1040 form.

Regardless, our corner of Nebraska has a lot going for it, no matter what USA Today says.

Check out the original article here: http://usat.ly/1DVKUOT

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  • IF Red Willow is the poorest, then it must also be the county in the state with the greatest opportunity to improve. New business and industry would be wise to locate here as wages must be low and they could get folks to work for them at rates slightly less than other locations in the state. Also the state itself, if they mean what they say in wanting the entire state to prosper, needs to invest more state dollars in this area. Looking at it from a cup half full view, the report is an opportunity not a road block.

    -- Posted by dennis on Thu, Jan 15, 2015, at 8:42 AM
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