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Charlotte's income on the rise

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Charlotte's income on the rise

Median household income ranks 8th in U.S. at $48,975

CHARLES LUNAN

Staff Writer

While some cities were battered by the last recession, Charlotte emerged last year as one of the nation's wealthiest municipalities in terms of household income.

Recent census data show the Queen City ranked eighth, between the Denver suburb of Aurora and Raleigh, with $48,975 in median household income in 2002. That means half the city's households earned less than that and half earned more.

Some economists speculated that Charlotte fared well because of its major banks, which performed well during the period.

While the 2002 figure marked a $1,952 increase from 2001, the city's ranking actually dropped to eighth from sixth last year as it was overtaken by San Diego and Arlington, Texas.

Still, Charlotte's median household income climbed 4 percent last year, enough to retain its top-10 position.

Some cities plummeted in the rankings. Boston fell to 29th last year from 12th in 2001. Honolulu fell to 19th from 11th. And the Los Angeles suburb of Anaheim, Calif., fell to 15th from ninth.

The data were released Sept. 3 but will be highlighted today when the director of the U.S. Census Bureau visits Charlotte to promote a change in the way government conducts its primary economic, housing and social survey.

After testing in 820,000 homes nationwide since 2000, the Census Bureau will roll out the American Community Survey nationwide in June by sending it to 250,000 households each month. The government will use the results to publish data annually. Such data had been collected only once a decade as part of the census.

"The 2000 Census did not even get to publishing social and economic data until 2003, and by then it was already changed," said Stephen Buckner, a spokesman for the Census Bureau.

When told of the city's ranking, some Charlotte-area residents were skeptical. Virginia Beach, Va., ranked fourth.

"That seems unlikely," said Jim Jeranek, 39, who has been unemployed since March. "Maybe that says the economy is not doing as well if these are the kind of towns that are making the high end of the average."

San Jose, Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley, was ranked first with a median household income of $76,181.

Patricia Matys of Matthews said she was shocked that $48,975 would rank as the eighth-highest median income in the nation.

"My husband and I are both on disability and we are just about at that income level," said Matys. "But we have paid off our mortgage and I don't see how someone with a mortgage and a family could survive on that."

Analysts said Charlotte's ranking is testimony to the diversity of the city's economy and the presence of two of the nation's largest banks.

"The banking industry, and the finance industry in general, is not that sensitive to the ups and downs of the economy," said John Connaughton, a UNC Charlotte economist. "As a result, when the rest of country was struggling, we were not."

The city's high ranking also reflects Charlotte's large geographic size and its ability to annex wealthy suburbs -- a power many larger cities don't have, said Tony Crumbley, vice president of research for the Charlotte Chamber. In addition, Charlotte's urban core is still relatively affluent, thanks to neighborhoods such as Dilworth and Myers Park.

While Charlotte ranked eighth, Mecklenburg County did not fare as well, coming in at 79th. Economists attributed the county's lower ranking to the fact that Mecklenburg was competing against geographically smaller counties, such as Somerset, N.J., and Fairfax, Va., which have become wealthy enclaves of larger cities such as New York and Washington.

The survey also showed that Charlotte had the nation's seventh-highest percentage of college graduates in 2002, tied with Minneapolis. Raleigh ranked second behind Seattle.

Such demographics have helped Charlotte and Raleigh lure a growing number of high-end retailers, said Jennifer Stanton, a real estate analyst who helped lure Nordstrom to the SouthPark mall. "It says something to them about the character and culture of a city that they are attracting a higher and higher income," said Stanton.

Of course, being ranked as one of the nation's higher-income cities can have its disadvantages. While some employers may be attracted by an affluent work force, others could be scared away.

Overall, however, economists viewed the income numbers as good news for the Charlotte region.

"It's an affluent city that works," said Connaughton. "Obviously there is income disparity, but what this is saying is there is a lot of opportunity here."

The survey showed that the percentage of people living in poverty in Charlotte has remained essentially flat since 2000 at 10.7 percent, even as the Charlotte region has shed thousands of manufacturing jobs.

"We have to be very careful with these numbers," said Michael Almond, president of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, which promotes economic development in 16 counties around Charlotte. "We have to consider that even in the city and the county of Mecklenburg, the vast majority of people don't fall into that (high-income) category. We still have a lot of work to do."

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10% poverty doesn't really seem that high to me. It's lower than most cities' rates. Even in my city, where average income is $85,000 per year, about 10% of the people live in poverty.

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Great for NC !

Believe me, a whole lot of places around the South would consider a poverty rate of just 10% wonderful. As of 1997, Shelby County (Birmingham suburbs) was the only county in Alabama with single-digit poverty rate. According to a 2002 estimate, Shelby County leads AL counties by a huge margin with a median household income of $64,105:

http://www.sceida.org/09052002.htm

On the other end of the spectrum, Greene County, AL (part of metro Tuscaloosa) has a poverty rate of 45.6% :

http://blackbelt.ua.edu/warsc.html

FWIW, here's some income info for northern Tuscaloosa, which includes both the most upscale subdivisions in town and the county's largest trailer park:

http://www.cousinsproperties.com/retail/demos/tsolt.cfm

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