Mississippi once made vacuums.

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Where Median Incomes Have Fallen the Most

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”
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Of all the indicators describing the not-very-impressive U.S. economic performance of the first decade and a half of the 21st century, the least impressive is probably median household income. It hit an all-time high in 1999 of $57,843 (converted into 2014 dollars), and as of 2014 stood at $53,657 -- a 7.2 percent decline. Monthly estimates by the former U.S. Census Bureau officials at Sentier Research indicate that median income made a big recovery in 2015 (the official 2015 numbers aren't out yet), but as of this June was still below the 1999 level. The typical American household remains poorer than it was 16 years ago.

In a nation as vast and diverse as the U.S., economic trouble like that tends not to be evenly distributed So I was curious: How does the Great Median Income Slide break down by state? Thanks to a Census Bureau spreadsheet that you can download right here,  I have the answer. Here are the states where median household income has slid the most since 1999:

Where Income Has Fallen the Most
Change in real median household income, 1999 through 2014
 
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Here are the states (plus the District of Columbia) where it rose the most:

Where Income Has Risen the Most
Change in real median household income, 1999 through 2014
 
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

And finally, because most of them made it onto neither of the above lists, here's how things have gone in the 10 most populous states:

How the Biggest States Have Fared
Change in real median household income, 1999 through 2014
 

I see a clear pattern on the downside: The states that have struggled the most tend to have manufacturing-intensive economies (Delaware and Nevada are the exceptions).

Also, it's worth pondering for a moment just how bad things have been in some of these states. The typical household in Michigan and Mississippi was more than 20 percent poorer in 2014 than in 1999. And Mississippi, which had the fifth-lowest median income in 1999, was dead last in 2014, with a median household income ($35,521) less than half that of Maryland, the most-affluent state.

On the upside, there doesn't seem to be a single cause. North Dakota had steady economic improvement that was supercharged starting in 2010 by an oil boom -- a boom that's over for now, which will surely show up in the 2015 income numbers. The District of Columbia has seen a population boom since the late 1990s as the government-industrial complex has continued to grow and its affluent employees have increasingly chosen to live in the city instead of commuting in from Maryland and Virginia. As for Montana, Hawaii and the rest ... you tell me.

Then there are the country's two most populous states, California and Texas, which are often contrasted for their differing approaches to taxes, regulation and the like. On this particular economic metric, their performance since 1999 has been remarkably similar -- and significantly better than the national average. Those with the urge to draw sweeping conclusions about economic policy are thus thwarted, for now at least.

  1. It's Table H-8.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Justin Fox at justinfox@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net