Census releases depressing income data, Maryland and New Jersey on top

The U.S. Census Bureau put out its annual snapshot of America today, with new measures of household income data and a trove of other demographic goodies.

Maryland was the state with the highest median household income ($70,545) in 2008, closely followed by New Jersey and Connecticut. The latter two make a lot of sense, with investment bankers and hedge fund managers in the New York City area making a killing in the pre-financial crisis months. But why Maryland, whose anchor city, Baltimore, is a poster child for post-industrial decline?

Top 10 Highest-Earning States
According to new data from the Census Bureau, Maryland has the highest household median income in the U.S. The 2008 American Community Survey reports a median income of $70,545 for The Old Line State.
Carlos Osario, AP

Governor Martin O'Malley would probably tell you it has to do with some economic development initiative or smart growth program. My guess is that a more important source of income gains was the explosion of high-paying jobs for Washington, D.C.-area government contractors resulting from the Bush administration's privatization of government (read Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew for more on that).

Nationwide, the situation looks grim -- and remember, these stats are a year old already. Median household income declined for five states (Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, and Michigan) between 2007 and 2008, compared to one state the previous year. Only five states gained in median income during the same period, compared to 33 in 2006-2007. Expect the situation to sour further when the 2009 data is released.

And check out the bottom of the list, where states like Mississippi and West Virginia have median income levels at barely half of Marlyand. Then, take a look at the results of the 2008 election. You'll notice that the top 10 median income states (other than oil-rich Alaska) all went for Obama, while the bottom 13 (except Latino-heavy New Mexico) went for McCain. Of course, once you adjust the numbers for cost of living, things might be different, but this is yet more evidence (in case you needed it) that Democrat and Republican voters are often residing in two very different countries.

A few other key stats from the American Community Survey:
  • The foreign-born population decreased to 12.5 percent, from 12.6 in 2007. This is consistent with other data that show fewer Mexican immigrants trying to cross the border. For a country that has relied on immigrant labor and ingenuity since it's founding, this can't be a good thing.
  • The census asked about health insurance for the first time. About one-quarter of Texans lacked health insurance; barely four percent lacked it in Massachusetts.
  • We're getting greener, but at a snail's pace. About 75.5 percent of workers drove alone to work in 2008, down from 76.1 percent in 2007. Users of public transit increased from 4.9 percent to 5.0 percent. Al Gore is not pleased.
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