REPORT: Oil and Gas Boom Boosts Small Town Incomes

November 28, 2012

SMALL TOWN MONEY: In Sully County, South Dakota (pictured), annual per capital income has risen more than 70 percent since 2007, to a whopping $116,000 a year

DENVER – Personal incomes inched up in rural America between 2007 and 2011 while declining in large metropolitan areas, according to a new analysis, which attributed bigger paychecks in smaller towns to the much maligned American oil and gas industry.

“The nation’s oil and gas boom is driving up income so fast in a few hundred small towns and rural areas that it’s shifting prosperity to the nation’s heartland in large part thanks to growth in the oil and gas sector,” read a Tuesday report by USA Today’s Dennis Cauchon.

Perhaps not surprisingly, residents of New York County, home to the skyscrapers and financial hubs of Manhattan, enjoyed the highest per capita income in the country at $121,000 – down more than 5 percent since 2007.  The unlikely enclave of Sully County, South Dakota – where per capita income has risen by more than 70 percent to a healthy $116,000 over the same period – clocked in at number two.

According to the report, six of the counties in the top ten are located in North Dakota, now the second largest oil producing U.S. state.

The findings of the analysis are likely to stoke what is an already contentious debate between majority House Republicans and President Obama over the proper direction for U.S. energy policy – as moderate and conservative lawmakers look for opportunities to raise additional revenue and create jobs without raising taxes, and while holding down government spending.

“It’s like a tax cut for America,” said the Wall Street Journal’s John Bussey of the oil boom during a Tuesday appearance on FoxNews.

Bussey added that the increased domestic energy productuion could give the U.S. a stronger hand on the international stage, arguing that additional American oil and gas resources could make foreign countries more likely to back the U.S. in international disputes — nations currently hesitant to do so for fear it might disrupt their energy supplies.

“We can use that [American] oil and gas to help our allies,” said Bussey.

In all, the study found that average incomes have fallen by 3.5 percent in big cities during the four year period, while incomes grew in small towns by nearly 4 percent over the same time frame.  Although incomes rose in both rural and urban areas in 2011.

“The energy boom and strong farm prices have reversed, at least temporarily, a long-term trend of money flowing to cities,” wrote Cauchon. “Last year, small places saw a 3% growth in income per person vs. 1.8% in urban areas.”

Colorado’s Crowley County had the dubious distinction of posting the lowest per capita income in the nation at $16,752, according to the report, despite growing by 3.5 percent since 2007.

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