Numbers You Need: Bad year, good decade for state per capital personal income

Last month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its preliminary report on state per capital personal income for 2009. Personal income is the income received by all persons from all sources, and is the most commonly used measure of state economic growth.

Not surprisingly, the report showed that 2009 was a rough year. Across the nation, state personal income declined by an average of 2.6 percent. As we discuss in the April edition of Numbers You Need, our monthly bulletin of key economic and budget data, in Oklahoma, per capital personal income (PCPI) fell by 1.9 percent, from $35,969 in 2008 to $35,268 in 2009. This drop ranked Oklahoma 22nd among the states in percent change from 2008 to 2009. West Virginia saw the strongest growth in 2009 and was one of only three states, along with Maine and Maryland, that registered positive growth. Wyoming saw the steepest decline, -5.9 percent, with Nevada, South Dakota, Idaho and Arizona rounding out the bottom five.

Oklahoma’s per capita personal income of $35,238 in 2009 ranked 34th among the states and was 90.0 percent of the national PCPI of $40,168. Oklahoma fell one spot from its 2008 ranking of 33rd (note that the preliminary numbers for 2008 showed Oklahoma as 28th highest, as we discussed in this blog post, but were revised downwards). In 2009, Oklahoma placed just ahead of North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan and just behind Ohio, Louisiana and Oregon. Among neighboring states, Oklahoma’s per capita personal income is comparable to Missouri (30th) and Texas (29th), significantly below Kansas (23rd) and Colorado (13th), but well ahead of New Mexico (42nd) and Arkansas (45th).

Despite the drop from 2008 to 2009, it was a prosperous decade for Oklahoma. From 2000-2009, Oklahoma’s PCPI grew by 44.5 percent in constant dollars (not adjusted for inflation), or an average annual rate of growth of 4.2 percent. This far outpaced the nation as a whole, which saw PCPI grow by 31.4 percent overall, or an annual average rate of growth of 3.1 percent. Oklahoma’s growth for the decade was 9th highest in the nation. The fastest growing states in the 2000’s were Wyoming, North Dakota, Louisiana and New Mexico, while Colorado, Georgia and Michigan saw the decade’s weakest growth. Among its neighbors, only New Mexico grew more quickly than Oklahoma; Oklahoma outperformed Kansas (21st), Texas (29th), Missouri (31st), Arkansas (41st) and Colorado (48th).

It’s worth recalling that per capita income, which measures total income divided by the population, is only one way of calculating the state’s wealth.  In the last Census Bureau report, Oklahoma’s median household, the one exactly at the mid-way point along the income ladder,  had income of  $45,494 for the two-year average of 2007-08, which ranked 39th in the nation. Meanwhile, the state’s poverty rate in 2008 was 15.9 percent, a full 2.7 percentage points above the national average and the 8th highest rate in the nation.  Do we yet have a good explanation for why a state that has climbed to among the middle rung of states in terms of the average income of its population continues to suffer from such persistently high rates of poverty and fare so poorly on so many indicators of personal and social well-being?


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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