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State’s ’12 per-capita income tops 81% of national average

But Arkansas ranks 49th in median household earnings

By David Smith

This article was published December 27, 2013 at 3:48 a.m.

Arkansas’ per-capita income in 2012 rose above 81 percent of the national income average, the highest ever, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Per-capita income in Arkansas last year was $35,437, or 81.03 percent of the national average income of $43,735. The 2012 measurement is the most recent annual information available.

The state’s per-capita income before 2009 had never exceeded 80 percent of the country’s average, said Greg Kaza, executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation. Per-capita income is the personal income of all residents - children and adults - in an area divided by the midyear population of the area, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said.

Arkansas’ per-capita income as a percentage of the nation’s average income has been above 80 percent three of the past four years, Kaza said. In that time, only in 2010 - at 79.81 percent - was the state’s average income below 80 percent of the national average, Kaza said.

Since at least 2004, business and state leaders have set a goal of raising the state’s per-capita income to the national level by 2020. In 2004, Arkansas’ per-capita income was $26,904, or 78.44 percent of the national average income of $34,300.

In 2004, Arkansas’ per-capita income ranked 49th in the nation, ahead of Mississippi. Last year, Arkansas ranked 45th, ahead of Utah, West Virginia, South Carolina, Idaho and Mississippi.

To help improve Arkansas’ position, organizations in the state have been “working on a body of knowledge-based economy initiatives, none of which are well-financed but are all having an impact,” said Jerry Adams, former chairman of Accelerate Arkansas and now president and chief executive officer of the Arkansas Research Alliance.

Accelerate Arkansas is a statewide group of businessmen and academicians whose mission is to promote economic growth in the state through job creation. The Arkansas Research Alliance, an outgrowth of Accelerate Arkansas, has recruited three scholars to the state to develop job-creating research at universities in Arkansas. Two more are being recruited heavily, Adams said.

“There is an urgency about trying to look at both the workforce development issues as well as the 21st-century job opportunities,” Adams said. “There is no way Arkansas can relax where we are. But we’re going in the right direction.”

There also is a partnership between the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson County and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration centered on the toxicological center’s transfer of intellectual property, the first of its kind in the country, Adams said.

Arkansas also is investing in education to improve its average income, said Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

“Education will have a long-term affect of growing the per-capita income,” Deck said. “Of course, we realize that every [state] in the union is also doing this. It is very hard to make progress because nobody else stands still.”

The state also needs more technically trained workers to help raise the state’s income, Deck said.

“There have been concerted efforts to work on this very-hard-to-move statistic,” Deck said. “You have to run twice as hard as everybody else. It can’t be done in a short time.”

Another way to measure income is the median household income - where half of the households have a lower income and half a higher income. Household income is based on all households and families for people 15 years old and older with incomes, the Bureau of Economic Analysis says.

Arkansas’ median household income was $40,606 last year, 49th in the nation and ahead of only Mississippi at $39,592.

“The median household income is in a troubling position,” Kaza said. “It needs to improve. There hasn’t been enough capital investment to generate enough good-paying jobs.”

Front Section, Pages 1 on 12/27/2013

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