Per Capita Personal Income in Eastern Oregon’s 7,000 Club – 2018

by Christopher Rich

February 18, 2020

The Bureau of Economic Analysis publishes county level personal income data in November. Personal income has three main components: net earnings (wages, salaries, employer contributions); personal current transfer receipts (retirement, Medicare, unemployment insurance); and dividends, interest, and rent. A county’s total personal income is the sum of all income generated by each resident of the county. Dividing total personal income by total population produces per capita personal income (PCPI): the average income per resident regardless of age. This doesn’t actually tell us how much income the average resident receives. However, much the same as per capita GDP, per capita personal income provides a way to make economic comparisons with other areas. It can also highlight trends and changes that warrant further study.
Grant, Harney, and Wallowa counties have populations of similar size. In 2018, there were between 7,000 and 7,400 residents in each of the three Eastern Oregon counties. Harney ranked 31st, Grant ranked 32nd, and Wallowa ranked 33rd in terms of total population among Oregon counties. In terms of PCPI however, Wallowa ranked 12th in 2018 while Grant ranked 22nd and Harney ranked 32nd.

Wallowa County

Wallowa County’s PCPI rose to $45,099 in 2018, an increase of 2.4 percent over 2017 (adjusted for inflation). Less than half (41.6%) of Wallowa’s PCPI came from net earnings. Transfer receipts (29.5%) was the second largest portion, but only slightly above dividends, interest, and rent (28.9%). The county ranked 29th in per capita net earnings, which increased by 4.7 percent from 2008 to 2018. Per capita net earnings increased 0.8 percent for the county since 2017. All but five Oregon counties saw an increase in net earnings over the 10-year period; all but four saw an increase since 2017.

Wallowa’s per capita transfer receipts ($13,285) ranked seventh in the state. Per capita transfer receipts increased by 2.3 percent since 2017. Roughly 40.0 percent of Wallowa’s income from transfer receipts took the form of retirement and disability insurance benefits, nearly all of which was from social security (97.3%). The largest portion (45.6%) of transfer receipts came from medical benefits: 64.6 percent from Medicare and 34.8 percent from public assistance medical care.

Wallowa’s per capita dividends, interest, and rent ($13,048) ranked fourth in the state. Per capita dividends, interest, and rent grew 24.8 percent for the county from 2008 to 2018. Wallowa was 12th in the state for growth in this component for the period. Per capita dividends, interest, and rent increased by 4.9 percent since 2017.

Growth or loss in components of per capita income occurs due to several factors. Shifting age demographics play a key role for a county. While Wallowa’s total population increased 0.8 percent from 2008 to 2018, the 18 to 64 year old population decreased by 8.3 percent. This translates to a loss of roughly 456 people for the age group, 68.1 percent of which was among the prime working-age population (25 to 54). The 65 or older population, on the other hand, expanded during the 10-year period. Growth for the age group was 37.5 percent and the group picked up 584 people. Counties with a heavy share of older residents are likely to see a larger portion of income drawn from retirement benefits and assets such as stocks, investment accounts, and real estate. For Wallowa, the number of young residents who draw less income from dividends, interest, and rent diminished, while the number of older residents who draw more income from this component increased. As a result, per capita dividends, interest, and rent felt strong upward pressure and saw strong growth for the 10-year period.
Grant County

Grant County’s PCPI rose to $41,939 in 2018, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2017. Less than half (45.8%) of Grant’s personal income came from net earnings, with the second largest portion (29.6%) from transfer receipts. The county ranked 26th in terms of per capita net earnings in 2018, but third for growth in per capita net earnings (+24.7%) from 2008 to 2018. Per capita net earnings increased by 1.9 percent for the county since 2017.

Grant County’s per capita transfer receipts ($12,397) ranked 12th in the state. Per capita transfer receipts increased 1.9 percent since 2017. A large portion (38.6%) of income from transfer receipts was in retirement and disability insurance benefits; 97.4 percent of this was from social security. The largest portion of transfer receipts (45.9%) came from medical benefits: 61.0 percent from Medicare and 38.7 percent from public assistance medical care.

Grant’s per capita dividends, interest, and rent ($10,338) ranked 17th in the state. Per capita dividends, interest, and rent grew 22.3 percent from 2008 to 2018. Grant County was 16th for growth in this component for the period; all eight Eastern Oregon counties were in the top half of counties for growth. Per capita dividends, interest, and rent increased by 4.4 percent for Grant since 2017.

Grant’s total population decreased by 1.7 percent from 2008 to 2018. All loss was seen in the 54 or younger portion of the population, which decreased by 19.8 percent or 896 people. The 17 or younger age group fell by 26.3 percent, the 18 to 24 age group fell by 22.2 percent, and the 25 to 54 age group fell by 15.6 percent. Meanwhile, the 55 or older population increased by 28.0 percent. This age group gained 826 people, 781 of which were 65 or older. Grant residents age 55 or older represented over half of the county’s population in 2018 and those at or above retirement age represented one-third of the population. Like Wallowa, per capita dividends, interest, and rent for Grant County felt strong upward pressure and saw strong growth for the 10-year period.

Harney County

Harney County’s PCPI rose to $39,122 in 2018, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2017. Almost half (48.2%) of Harney’s PCPI came from net earnings with the second largest portion from transfer receipts (29.5%). The county was 28th in per capita net earnings, but 10th in growth for per capita net earnings (+14.1%) from 2008 to 2018. Per capita net earnings increased by 4.7 percent since 2017.

Harney County’s per capita transfer receipts ($11,532) ranked 19th in the state. Per capita transfer receipts increased 1.6 percent since 2017. For Harney, a smaller portion of income from transfer receipts (35.8%) was seen in retirement and disability insurance benefits, although a comparable 97.0 percent of this was from social security. The largest portion of transfer receipts (46.2%) came from medical benefits: 55.2 percent from Medicare and 44.4 percent from public assistance medical care.

Harney’s per capita dividends, interest, and rent ($8,745) ranked 23rd in the state. Per capita dividends, interest, and rent grew 24.1 percent from 2008 to 2018. Harney County was 13th for growth in this component for the period. Per capita dividends, interest, and rent increased by 3.2 percent for Harney since 2017.

Harney’s total population decreased by 4.2 percent from 2008 to 2018. The 54 or younger population decreased by 13.8 percent while the 55 or older population increased by 25.5 percent. This translates to a loss of 691 for the younger age group and a gain of 623 for the older age group. Almost half of the loss was among the prime working-age population and 41.0 percent of the loss was among the 17 or younger crowd. At the same time, more than three-fourths of the gain was among the retirement age population. The county’s residents age 55 or older accounted for 41.5 percent of the population in 2018; residents 65 or older accounted for one-fourth of the population. As with Wallowa and Grant, Harney also felt strong upward pressure on per capita dividends, interest, and rent and saw strong growth in the component for the 10-year period.

The Sum of Things

Grant, Harney, and Wallowa have similar size populations, but different levels of PCPI. The three counties draw nearly the same percentage of income from transfer receipts. Harney, which has the largest 18 to 54 population, draws the highest percentage of income from net earnings. Wallowa, which has the smallest 18 to 54 population, draws the least from net earnings. All three counties have seen large growth in dividends, interest, and rent in line with shifts in age demographics. Grant has the largest 65 or older population among the three counties while Harney has the smallest. It’s Wallowa, however, that draws the highest percentage of income from dividends, interest, and rent.


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